Finishing a 100-mile running event is an unfathomable feat for most of us – an epic ultrarunning milestone that even experienced runners take years to achieve. But not Texas-based runner and amateur IRONMAN triathlete Roni Garrett– Roni achieved her goal in 2017 just three years after running her first marathon!
Here, in her own words, 37-year-old Roni (who competes in marathon, ultra-trail, duathlon, triathlon and aquathlon events) documents her experience running the Brazos Bend 100 race three years ago, sharing what it took to get herself across the finish line after 27 hours of running in minus temperatures.
The road to 104 miles… is a roller-coaster of a lifetime!
Who am I?
I’ve always been a runner, but the half-marathon was my sweet spot. It was just long enough a distance that it didn’t feel overwhelming. As the years progressed I began loving running longer and longer. I did my first marathon, the Houston Marathon, in 2014 and then found myself doing multiple IRONMAN triathlons and marathons and absolutely loving it, but this left me wondering: ‘what else could my body do?’ I’d done several trail runs, seen the ultrarunners and thought they were CRAZY! So I embarked on attempting to explore the world of ultrarunning.
What did it take to get me to the start line?
It took me two years to get to the starting line of the Brazos Bend 100. The year prior, I did several marathons, trail runs and a 50 miler to physically prepare. The year I ran the 100 miles, I also did two marathons and an IRONMAN. The cross-training involved in training for the IRONMAN was a huge help in keeping me injury-free. Swimming, biking and weight training were key to my success. I would highly recommend lifting weights to strengthen your core and lower back.
Most people want to know how much I ran to prepare for the 100 miles. The answer is A LOT! I ran five days a week and on four of those days, I ran twice a day. I would run 8 miles at 4:30am then after work run 13 miles. On Saturdays, during my peak training, I ran 30 miles in the morning followed by 5 miles in the afternoon. I could easily clock in over 60 miles in a week.
I focused on taking it in small manageable pieces. I had a great coach at PR Endurance Sports who would only show me my workout for the week. You can’t let yourself get overwhelmed and try to mentally take in the full race at once. I trained myself to focus on one loop at a time.
Which race did I choose?
I signed up for the Brazos Bend 100, a trail run that takes place at Brazos Bend State Park in Texas, which is known for its alligators. It consists of 6 loops of 17 miles, although the year I did it, the first loop was mismarked and was long – almost 20 miles. In total the course was 104 miles.
The temperature in Texas during the race was a freezing cold 30°F (-1° Celsius!) I was ready, excited and calm leading up to the race, and on the start line, I focused on calming my mind so that I didn’t get overwhelmed.
How did I do it?
With the help of a badass group of friends! I had the most amazing group of pacers. The most important key to this race is a solid team and a solid plan. This race was a success mainly because of my support crew. The course meant that I could stop at our “base camp” at the start of each loop, where I would change my socks and shoes and reload on nutrition. Each person in my crew played a key role in my success – from having my bottles ready to go when I finished a loop to putting blister pad and menthol rub on my ankles and feet, changing my socks and having the items I needed ready to roll. My crew even ran with me in the middle of the freezing cold and stayed overnight in it. I could not have asked for a better pit crew and I love them dearly for it.
What kept me going?
I ran 27 hours straight and took NO NAPS! To keep going, I’ve always repeated, ‘Keep Moving Forward’ in my mind during races. I made my first IRONMAN kit with the saying on it. Also, I only thought about the next aid station and nothing more. Keeping the segments manageable helps my mental state.
How did I fuel it?
I had two race belts, each with four bottles. Two contained water and the other two contained Infiniti nutrition. My goal was to finish all liquids during each loop. When I got back to base, my team would have the next belt ready to switch out. I also ate croissants and peanut butter. The aid stations also had great food – quesadilla and ramen overnight! It was cold so the warm food was delicious. I don’t do gels – I’ve always preferred real food while racing.
How did it feel to run 100 miles?
This was the most humbling and amazing experience I have ever had. Having my friends support me during this epic journey will be something I never forget. Watching the sun rise, then set, then rise again was amazing. Hitting mile 90 was actually the hardest point and for the first time I thought I wouldn’t finish. Sounds crazy – only 13 more miles – but it was daunting. Not only was my body breaking down but my mind started to question if I could do it. The worse of all was the next day! I wasn’t prepared for the pain. GI issues and muscle pain I’ve never felt.
What did I learn?
I learned passion and determination will shine over sheer athleticism. And your mind is the strongest muscle in our body. I wanted to stop so many times. I cried at mile 90 thinking there was no way in hell I could continue on in -1C temperatures, but my mind was stronger than the physical pain. Out of 178 people I was one of 91 who finished!
Since the Brazos Bend 100, I’ve continued to race. More IRONMAN triathlons, a 70.3 in Scotland, 50k trail runs in Oregon and marathons in Banff, Canada. I race for Team Zoot and qualified to represent the USA in the 2020 ITU World Championship in Amsterdam, but of course, it was cancelled due to the pandemic. I will continue run and push my limits. I’m actually just starting to ramp up for my next 100-mile race – hopefully next year.
Why did I choose to run 100 miles?
I wanted to show women who look like me they can. The trails don’t care how much money you make or what your background is, they only care that you showed up and put in the work. Too many times I am the only Black woman (or person) at the start line. Driving visibility for women and women of colour in “extreme” sports is a passion of mine. From ultrarunning to triathlons we can accomplish anything!
In life as in races, Just Keep Moving Forward, you’ll surprise yourself what you can accomplish.