Racing is inherently unpredictable. It’s part of its charm. We can spend an eternity preparing for race day but any number of unforeseen factors can derail even the best-laid plans. Mastering the unpredictable is addictive and it is why we runners search ceaselessly for new challenges. It may be new personal records, more competitive fields, and longer distances over the most taxing courses.
This past weekend, Tera Dube, our retail manager and fountain of positive energy that helps this company thrive, reached the epitome of ultra running when she toed the line at the Western States Endurance run. As an automatic qualifier by virtue of a fourth place finish at the Sean O’Brien 50 miler, she had her eyes on a top 10 finish and a sub 24- hour belt buckle. Her training lined up perfectly and she was confidently prepared for the journey from Squaw Valley to Auburn.
Running 100 miles undoubtedly has unique challenges. When those miles are traversed through the thin air of mountain passes, the demands on the body are further compounded. Running Western States requires not only intense physical training but also a carefully laid out nutrition plan and room to adjust for the unpredictable dynamics of our earth’s higher altitudes.
It was apparent to Tera early in her race that the altitude was going to be a bigger issue than originally anticipated. Paces that had felt very comfortable on the trails around our San Luis Obispo home were unsustainable in the mountains. Unfortunately, tolerance to the effects of scarce oxygen is not spread equitably among people and Tera’s training partner Katie Murphy managed a more consistent early pace while Tera was forced to drop back.
However, slowing her pace did not solve Tera’s body’s indignation toward the tasks requested of it. By the end of Devil’s Thumb, a climb, that in Tera’s words was “longer and more hideous than I remembered,” Tera had retained 5 extra pounds of fluid. Nausea set in and caused her to weave back and forth on the trails, hardly an ideal state for someone almost halfway through 100 miles of racing. Tera had to stop and recover, a hard pill to swallow for a competitor already lagging behind her goals. The worries concerning her ability to finish undoubtedly began creeping in.
Virtually every participant in the pinnacle events of their particular sport has has had to rely on a team of support to get through times of adversity. A support team brings enduring advice and encouragement in the doubt-filled moments and fosters growth throughout the athlete’s career. Tera’s husband and eternal training partner, Erik Dube, who was anxiously waiting for her down the trail, ready for her to pop out of the forest at any moment, anchors this team. During Tera’s stretch at Devil’s Thumb, her support team gained a new, invaluable edition named Alene. As a physician’s assistant volunteering her time at the aid station, Alene helped Tera’s body return to form, while the energy from Erik and countless other friends and family members drowned out the doubts and Tera found the ability to carry on.
Inexplicably reinvigorated after overcoming the Devil’s Thumb scare, Tera forged onward and regained hope of a sub 24-hour finish. At the Forest Hill aid station, Tera picked up Dusty, her pacer for the final 40 miles and was able to catch up with Erik as he paced another friend Scott Dubral. While Alene’s magical rejuvenation had succumbed to the inevitable exhaustion from the day’s events, the support of the team was stronger than ever. The hopes of a sub 24-hour race eventually faded once her body started to falter but she dismissed all thoughts of a DNF lurking in her mind.
With Dusty’s assistant, and later brother-in-law Marc, Tera covered the remaining miles, walking much more than running. She crossed the finish at 27 hours, 58 minutes, and 4 seconds with her two daughters running along side. She was the 33rd woman across the line. She was well south of a coveted sub 24-hour silver buckle and her goal of a top ten finish yet she had finished, an accomplishment many have dreamed about and few can claim.
Most importantly, she gave her team inspiration about what we can accomplish even when the unexpected happens. The competitor in her may be left with disappointment but the 50+ comments on her Facebook page tell a different story. We admire her determination and are proud to be one of the support team members. She’s back at work today with nary a limp, helping customers find the perfect pair of shoes with the same enthusiasm she’s had since starting here 7 years ago. While she’s not allowed to go for lunch runs with us for at least a week or two, we love her and can’t wait to see what the future holds for her running career.