The 24 Hour Ultraskate is an event I’ve competed in twice before. It’s a grueling consecutive 24 hour race around the NASCAR Homestead-Miami Speedway in Southern Florida hosted every year in January. To say that every event I attend, every adventure skate I do, and every accomplishment I make in distance skateboarding all adds up to what happens in this race is saying it modestly: Everything in my life cumulatively is all in preparation for it.
To preface- I won this race. I placed first in the women’s division. It’s an accomplishment I’ve never attained before. My boastful pride came from everything I did prior in entirety. Winning this race meant the beginning of a new era: for the first time in three years, I’ve been on a winning streak. From downhill to long distance, I have been absolutely at the top of my game. That smile you see in the podium pictures came from all of the years before it, standing in the number 2 spot to so many amazing women – women I learned from, befriended, and competed against.
Last year in this race it was the most competitive women’s division it had ever been. Women from all across the globe flew to Southern Florida to try their hand at besting their own personal records, and found the most intensely aggressive race in Ultraskate history. I placed second after an arduous battle against champion and ex-world record holder Roseanne DeLange, You can read about my experience in the first Ultraskate I ever attended here.
This time, it wasn’t predicted to be as competitive. There was significantly less registered racers than in years past. What sparked this could have been any range of reasons, but it didn’t matter. Legendary distance skateboarder Andy Andras said, “This year it’s going to be very personal. Lots of people are going out there and shooting for their own personal bests.” I took that to heart. Instead of duking it out for a world record, as I have dreamed of attaining for years and years, I went in with a clear mind – my enemy and competition was myself. I wanted to hit 250 miles.
Most people would have said going into this race there was no reason for them to suspect I wouldn’t hit 250 miles. I just returned from an insane skateboarding adventure across the entire USA – a 48 day personal torture-fest averaging anywhere from 40-70 miles a day if not hitchhiking, through below-freezing temperatures in the great northern states of the country. On top of that, I placed first in 3 separate shorter races literally the weekend before I departed. My first-first place finishes in all of my history as a racer. The records showed that I was absolutely at the top of my game.
A different story brewed in the shadows. Somewhere around Southern Idaho in my journey I took my last available estrogen pill, and in Nebraska I took my last anti-androgen pill. The remaining 11 states I had to traverse were toiled with the mental and physical hardships that came with a vastly changing hormonal makeup – the surge in testosterone I endured was a horrific experience beyond the mental aspects. My body was changing, and with all of the physical activity I was doing, there was almost no way for me to control it. Most would think that a surge in testosterone would have benefitted me, but in understanding how hormones work a body that has had “female-levels” of testosterone and estrogen for more than four years faced a very different battle.
Returning from that trip, I was wildly depressed. I still couldn’t get on hormones until I figured out my insurance situation, and I returned home to nothing. Mentally I was drained. Getting on a skateboard again seemed like something I would rather never do again. I fell into a foul battle with binge eating disorder, gained weight I couldn’t sustain, and wretched through sleepless nights – often still sleeping in my tent because I was otherwise homeless.
Bringing my body back to normalcy and what it was used to as far as hormones were concerned took an unrealistically long amount of time. When I did get on HRT (hormone replacement therapy) once again, it was like shooting myself into a fourth puberty – the second being where I began hormone replacement therapy for the first time, and the third being out on the road. A body simply wasn’t built to do that, and for all hell’s sake, I was 26 years old.
The muscles atrophied once again – the result was almost instantaneous. Energy was no longer within my grasp. My over eating turned for the worse to a point where every dollar I spent had to go to food, and not just snacks – full blown meals almost every two hours. Dragging myself out of bed was impossible. I lost interest in things I was doing: I gave up on writing and fell into a pit of staring at a TV screen to play video games knowingly feeding my brain fodder just to pass the time. In a matter of 4 months, I gained almost 25 pounds and danced on the line of 205 pounds. I had never been that heavy before.
Messing around with my hormones to feel normal once again probably wasn’t the best idea so close to such a monumental race, but regardless of it all, had I not been on HRT I may not have even competed. I went into the race telling myself to simply do my best. Whatever happened, happened.
The night before race day at 8am, I couldn’t sleep. A cocktail of caffeine, beer, and strangely strong weed pulsed in my system. So many things worried me: for all intents and purposes, I was no longer confident in myself. I was at my most depressed and surrounded by friends, tossing and turning on a couch in a state I knew nothing about. It wasn’t until 4am I finally caught my sleep, only to wake up at 530am to gather my things, prepare, and depart for the event. I was entirely unable to nap on the way there. I was anxious.
The racetrack has this oddly strange, overpowering aura about it. You step through the loading bays where the cars are parked and tents are set up to support the racers, and in front of you lies a 1.46 mile banked race track, with stands as high as a building, encased in a wire fence. Awe strikes. I stepped onto the pavement and looked around, taking it all in. “Was this it? Was this my moment?” I couldn’t answer that question.
730am came and we, the racers, trotted over to the starting line. I didn’t speak to anyone on my own volition before it started. Talking about the race made me concerned for myself. I never felt good knowing whether or not anybody was ready. Every person there knew who I was, and I knew everyone – I gave myself this odd notion that at some point all eyes were on me. Whether or not it was true (it wasn’t) was beyond me. I was nervous. My overeating and sudden weight gain was obvious. I bursted out of my short shorts, I didn’t have an S on my chest like years prior, and looking down I could see my gut protruding beyond a normal point. I felt gross. Every step felt like I was carrying a ball and chain with me.
At the starting line, I exchanged fist bumps with a few close friends. I longed for the days of my first Ultraskate, where nobody knew me and I could surprise them all. It wasn’t like that anymore. I was called up to the front of the starting line – I received an award for being the 2017 IDSA Women’s 19-29 Tour Champion. Pictures were being taken of me and others were congratulating me. I just wanted to be left alone.
08:00-09:59: I came out strong. There was this idea that I was going to make trans woman’s history. Technically in everything I do I am already setting trans women’s history. I am the only openly transgender woman in the entire IDSA. I spent a few laps in my own head, staring at my Garmin watch I calibrated exactly to the time system of the race. I wanted to pace at 11.6mph. I did this quite well, almost staring at my watch the entire time. I left my phone in the tent – I wanted to be focused. Each hour I had Neena Schueller, my support for the race (and Original Skateboards team member), filling up a water bottle with uncaffeinated Tailwind Nutrition. I had planned to only ingest Tailwind for the duration of the race.
10:00-11:59: I linked up with Adrian Oh, the other skateboarding world traveler in attendance at the event. He wanted to pace for 250 miles – so did I. He continued to yell at me to slow down. 250 miles was 00:08:00 laps. We were pacing at about 00:07:30 laps. I felt pretty okay, but I was STARVING. The binge eating I was going through really dug into me. It was hardly even 1/6 of the way through the race and I knew there was no way I could keep up with not eating. I begged Neena for food, but aside from a few granola bars, there was nothing. The event-prepared lunch wasn’t going to be ready until noon. The starvation turned to being tired. The lack of sleep was also digging at me. My optimism faded quickly for the event. I could feel my eyes becoming heavier and called for Neena to bring me caffeinated Tailwind. Other the other side of things, Adrian and I really began to mesh in our draft. We were on fire. What a team we were.
12:00-13:59: I started chafing right around noon. My shorts were too short. Last year I wore yoga pants and since I left them on the side of the road for weight reduction in the middle of my journey across the USA, I couldn’t access them. I had no time to order clothes or gear for this event and relied heavily on my girlfriend to provide a few key things. She even bought me race shoes, but at the last minute I decided not to make any drastic changes to my getup. I skated across the country in those shoes, so what harm could 250 miles in a circle do? I answered that question when I felt blisters forming – I should have been wearing my wool socks. By 12:30 I had already completed 2 marathons. 52.4 miles and was otherwise feeling okay because I had Adrian to accompany me. Overall I was in 7th place and 1st for women’s. I intended to hold that for quite a while. I was feeling pretty great overall. I had Neena give me my hormone pills and took my testosterone blocker.
14:00-15:59: The hunger really began to get to me. I hadn’t eaten. It wasn’t that my body needed food, there was just this innate feeling in my body that I wanted to eat so, so terribly. Andy informed me lunch would be up in a few hours. I knew my system was getting out of whack. Ryan Villa and Angel Andrete joined the draft with Adrian and I – Ryan looked like he was about to drop dead at any moment. He was sweating more than I had ever seen a human sweat in my life. Around 15:00 I felt a cramp from having a rumbling stomach and decided to take a 1 lap break. That was when I knew I was not going to get 250 miles. With everything so early beginning to wear down on me, taking a break was the first sign of losing. I fought the increasingly strengthening wind with the other three, but it was really killing me. I had flashbacks to Idaho – crying in the middle of nowhere with no option but to pick up and walk because the headwind was so strong. This time, I didn’t have that luxury. I overheard the lead pack (the guys going for 300 miles) say they weren’t on pace for hitting their mark. It seemed everyone was facing a lot of difficulty.
16:00-17:59: I took another break to pee. It was so unusual. Last year I only peed once, at 3am. This year I didn’t have a grip on my body whatsoever. I felt so out of control. By 17:00, we had done 4 marathons, 9 hours into the race. It was a really great pace. We slowed from 11.6mph to 11.4mph and it honestly did feel better, but I wondered how much longer I could hold it. I knew that breaking was going to affect that. I did the math and the world record at 262 miles was at a 10.9mph pace. It was too late to start over, but if I had kept an easy 11mph pace for the first half of the race and then picked it up for the remaining half with all that saved energy, I could have bested it. Andy informed me that lunch was ready and that he would get me a cup of pasta, but Neena already had one waiting for me. I could hardly get it down even though I felt such an intense need to. It didn’t taste good at all, but for some reason I was no longer feeling that fleeting hunger. It was almost like being revived without being felled. The sun started to set and the real challenge was going to begin.
18:00-19:59: With the sun going down, I had switched entirely to caffeinated Tailwind. The draft train we kept was strong. I was the weak link but I showed no pain. However, I decided once again to break. The breaks were my time to make sure I wasn’t dying. I would be the type of person to literally die standing up. Stopping for just a few minutes meant I could slow my heart rate and ensure that I wasn’t going to burst internally. I checked the results once again: still 1st for women, but fell to 9th overall with my breaks. I was disheartened, but obviously a true powerhouse in the Ultraskate wouldn’t take a break. I wasn’t that powerhouse. Not this year.
20:00-21:59: The halfway point was finally reached. I started to doubt myself, even though out on the course I held pace for 275 miles. My 11.4mph pace dropped to 11.3mph. It couldn’t have been long before it was going to drop even further. My breaks were more frequent. I took one more break to grab a protein bar. Coming back at hour 13, I popped an Advil and felt like I had just started the race all over. I was entirely in command. My spirit was back up and my pains were gone. I took my second testosterone blocker and carried on unphased.
22:00-23:59: Two hours of keeping up with Adrian and Ryan felt amazing, but I crashed hard. I was tireless. I could hardly keep my eyes open. I started wiping my eyes, smudging my eyeliner, looking like a fool. I did the math and changed my pace for 250 miles, which would still be a PR but certainly not a world record. How disheartening it was, even though I wasn’t convinced from the beginning I would get it. An hour after that, I wasn’t even on pace for 250 miles. I had upset myself, crashed, and burned. At 23:30 I decided I was going to take a nap. I pulled off the course, tucked into my tent, and passed out. I was gross- the sweat was cold. I was wet all over. My braids were a mess and I couldn’t bear it. I changed clothes to something warmer and something I wouldn’t feel so self conscious in. There was just still so much time left to the race.
00:00-01:59: I returned to the track at 01:00. I was still in first for women, not by as much as I was, but still with quite a significant lead. It was all I cared about anymore. Since 250 was out of the question, I only wanted to beat Danielle Van Veen and Anne, the other two strongest pushers in attendance. Keeping my streak of first place wins was important for my morale – I hadn’t lost a race in downhill or long distance since August. I was completely spent, but getting back on the track with a mindset that didn’t have me fighting numbers was relieving. All I had to do was keep pushing. I let Adrian and Ryan go – Angel moved into the lead pack and was still looking strong.
02:00-03:59: I spent a few laps with Anne Palmer. Anne always had a good spirit and she really helped me get in check. She was a real turning point for me in racing- she didn’t hold the same competitive spirit as I did for numerous reasons, but her ability to stand tall was something of legends. I noticed she was breaking more than I had ever seen her in the last two years. The race was really getting to everybody. Seemingly everybody besides Angel and Adrian fell off course to hit their goals. Harrison quit early, Felipe left with an injury. The general spirit of the late-night Ultraskate was dismal. With less than 6 hours to go, I wondered if I could even make 200 miles. Danielle was seemingly missing, Anne crawled in mileage while her and I stayed in our ranks. It was obvious the three of us were going to stand on the podium, but I couldn’t stand to repeat my first Ultraskate where I crashed and burned and Anne lapped me while I slept by more than 20 miles. At 03:30, I was still up by over 20 miles on Danielle, so I snuck in a final rest.
04:00-05:59: I slept until 05:30. I felt like a fraud for crashing out like I did, but I knew every reason I had was legitimate. I just didn’t have the same control over my mind or body as I have in every other race. My strength just wasn’t there. However, I gave myself another goal: 185 miles. That would still be more than my first Ultraskate. However, even then, I didn’t have it in me. I crawled along and offered smiles to other people, taking a lap and breaking for a lap. I joined Andy in the announcer’s tent and shared a beer with him. I noticed Danielle was out on the track and completely negated to check the results. She was gaining on me. I had her at bay by only a few laps, so I periodically kept jumping in the track and doing a lap to stay in first. It was a silent battle. She acknowledged exactly what I was doing, but there was no way I was going to let all of this pass to give up my first place trophy. The race was so close to being over.
06:00-08:00: With the sun rising, other racers had woken up and rejoined the track to try and get a few laps. I caught Ryan out there, who decided to put in his best effort to hit 200 miles. I was so proud of him- an 85 mile increase from his last Ultraskate was so impressive. I had nothing to boast about. I was being lazy. I had first, and kept Danielle aside just by one lap at a time to retain it. There was nothing competitive about the entire event even though I longed for it. Had world record holder Saskia Tromp or ex world record holder Roseanne De Lange been there, I was positive the fire would have been burning under me to keep it extra tough for them, win or lose. At some point I convinced myself it was important for an American to win in the USA Ultraskate. I let the embers of that keep me in first place. Breakfast came out and I did a lap while eating a plate of eggs and bacon. The sun was at full rising and the overall top ten had been decided- I wasn’t in it.
I was top 20, but that was nothing to boast about. Sure enough, hour 24 rolled around and I had won my first Ultraskate. I cracked a big smile – 179 miles in 24 hours was nothing impressive for me, but seeing how others had also given it their all and not even come close to that let me know I wasn’t totally out of my element. There was always next year and who could tell what was going to come for me in 2018? With my medical side of things finally being normalized, a girlfriend to return home to, and an upcoming adventure to skateboard the entirety of Florida in only 6 days, I was feeling positive. That race, with the wind and the quiet track, was a checkpoint for me. Everybody out there was an amazing warrior. Taking on a challenge like a consecutive 24 hour race was nothing short of bewildering.
I stepped up and received my IDSA trophy, my 150 mile lanyard, my 100 mile patch, and my women’s 2018 Ultraskate champion trophy with hugs to everyone I shared the podium with. Even if it wasn’t my finest performance, I sure as hell earned it. I could only look forward to what came next.