Zane Grey 50 and the Ultra Family that Could

The morning dawned… no, no that’s not right. It would’ve been way nicer if the morning had dawned. No, instead, my alarm went off at 4:05 am. This is not dawn. This is dumb. Anyway…

In anticipation of a stupid wake-up time, I slept in my race clothes, hair already braided. I rolled out of bed, totally grouchy, threw on my hat, watch, and some sunscreen, grabbed my breakfast, and met my friends Jesse, Kathi, and her husband Chris, in the lobby of the hotel at 4:25. We had a lively ride to Pine Trailhead. Poop was probably discussed. I’m not positive on that, but I was involved in the conversation, so it’s likely. Poop: it brings people together.

We arrived at the race start about 15 minutes before the race would begin. I realized I’d forgotten my flashlight. As in, I hadn’t even thought to pack one to bring to Payson with me. Lovely. Well, I run in the black regularly, I could make that work, but I figured I’d ask at the registration table if they happened to have any extra lights. The look on Joe’s face was priceless. I’m sure you can picture the look: “You are at the start of one of the hardest ultra’s in the country…. And you didn’t think to bring a flashlight. We will find your body on the trail.” It was a great moment. My friend Laurie was there crewing her husband, and she thankfully had a light she let me borrow- problem solved!

Race start time- ish. We all corralled. Joe said some stuff about markings and things. Then we started running.

Let me back up just a skosh. Last year I started Zane Grey 50 mile with an injury. This injury flared horribly within the first mile. The rest of my race, until my DNF 7 miles from the finish (over cutoff), was a practice in walking as fast as I could. This has haunted me. I needed to finish this race. This year I did my best not be injured, forgoing all races, and even doing almost no running the last three weeks before the race. My plan for the day was to maintain a comfortable, gentle, (read slow) pace for the first 50k (it’s a freaking long 50k) and then pick it up if possible. Remember child, Highline eats her babies. Don’t go too fast. I’ve run here a lot. I know this. The pace I was wanting would allow me to stay comfortably ahead of cutoffs at the aid stations. All I wanted was to finish Zane. My first mile went really well this year. Then my hands got fat.

No, really, like FAT. I thought they were just cold at first, but no, they looked like Fat Bastard’s hands in Austin Powers, only with fewer dimples and no wrinkles. Weird. I don’t usually have any issues with swelling fingers, at least not very much, and certainly not within the first few miles of a run. Whatever, I could still run just fine.

Kathi and I hung together, chatting and really enjoying our time. We rolled into Geronimo aid, mile 8-ish, just a few minutes ahead of our goal time. We were doing great. We watered the bushes and moved on out.

The next miles into Washington Park aid rolled by. We were both really looking forward to that aid station because our husbands and families would be there. Turns out they only beat us there by about 5 minutes! We were making good time- not too fast, just steady and comfortable. We both felt good. We ate some food, watered the bushes again, and were off again.

I knew from my training runs that the course out of WA Park was much longer than before, but much more runnable, due to trail work and clean switchbacks. Kathi and I trucked along, sometimes I pulled her, sometimes she pulled me. Sometimes we lost each other for a bit. I think it was somewhere in here that I tripped, and when I caught myself my calf cramped. Weird. So I walked that off. Then as I started to run up a hill, my hamstrings cramped. Even weirder. The calf cramp made sense, sort of, but I’ve never had my hamstrings cramp before, and I don’t cramp in general. So I walked for a bit- cramped up hamstrings could completely finish me off. When I got into Hell’s Gate aid station, Kathi was just a little behind me and gave me some Endurolytes. My hands were still all super fat, and that coupled with the start of cramps, I thought maybe I needed something. Still weird, though, because I never use any kind of salt- I just rely on my food for all nutrition.

I moved out of Hell’s Gate and felt pretty good. Just rolled. No more cramping. I ate my food, I drank my water, and then, then I started to not feel so great. I couldn’t name it exactly, just something was up. I kind of felt nauseous. I wasn’t hot, I’d been drinking normally. I’d peed a few times. Not great colored pee, but I was peeing, and I don’t normally pee more than once on a run of that length (you totally wanted to know that, right?). Kathi caught me and pulled me, and shoved me towards Fish Hatchery. We rounded a bend and there was my husband, Andy, standing just at the bend of the trail looking for me. I just lost it and started crying. I had a very emotional spot. I knew something was going on with me, but for the life of me, I had no idea what. He gave me a huge bear hug that I really needed.  

Kathi and I then ran into Fish Hatchery aid station. Everyone was cheering so loudly, I was crying all over the place. There were so many friends there! I got a really great hug from Todd. I probably hugged some other people too. I was in a blur. We had a significant time buffer by this point, so I sat down in the road and tried to figure out what I needed. My ginormous hands were struggling to get things out of my pack pockets, so I readjusted those. I ate what I could, but food wasn’t sounding great. I drank some water, and some sugar and all. My pacer Amy was there and was so helpful, and Andy brought me delicious coke. Kathi got going with her pacer- she had been struggling with an injury for over a year, and needed to keep moving to keep it at bay. The medic came over to check on me- I must have already been looking like a hot mess at that point. I certainly felt like one. I don’t usually have medics check on me.

I finished up and Amy and I walked out of Fish Hatchery. Zane is difficult for many reasons, one of which, in my opinion, is that while the first 30+ miles are difficult, the last 20 miles are brutal. I knew I would be walking a lot. So that’s what Amy and I did. And it was okay. I had enough of a buffer, I knew all I needed to do in order to finish was to leave See Canyon aid station by 7:15 pm. As long as I did that, I was golden to finish. We hiked up the big hill out of Fish, ran the downs. But something was wrong. I just didn’t feel right. I turned to the side of the trail and forcibly launched all my food and water I’d taken in at Fish Hatchery into the grass (That means I puked. A lot.) Now, RARELY puke. Two pregnancies and no puking. Sick with the flu? Maybe I’ll puke, maybe. Sick with food poisoning? Naw, no need to puke. Needless to say, I’d never puked during a run before. Never really even felt particularly nauseous. Add it to the weirdness of the day.

After puking I felt much better. I was concerned about my hydration, so I started taking little sips of water periodically just so my body would have something. We moved pretty well until we hit some uphill (this is Zane, it’s a lot of uphill) and then I threw up again. I would drink a little bit of water, we’d hit a hill, I’d puke. I lost track of how many times this happened. Amy was there the whole time. She moved my hair out of the way (I’d puked on it the first time, and then she handed me a wet wipe and helped me clean up my pukey self), she rubbed my back. She didn’t even gag, at least not that I noticed. I thought, “Well, maybe I just need to go up the hill REALLY slowly, and then I won’t puke.” Or, “Maybe if I sit down on the uphills periodically, I won’t puke.” It didn’t matter. I puked and puked and puked every time. I puked until there was nothing left to puke, and then I puked some more. I always felt better after puking, but then we’d climb and I’d puke again. My body and head felt solid, completely fine, but my stomach just wouldn’t quit. Finally, after yet another puke, I just gave up on drinking. There was no point. Funny thing, that, I stopped puking and I was finally able to haul ass. It was a hiking ass-hauling, but it was strong and felt great. I even peed again, and there was a significant amount and it was good color… What?!?!?! This whole day makes none sense.

  We got into See Canyon aid station about 20 minutes before cutoff. I learned that Kathi had come in and decided to finish!!! I was so glad! As I mentioned, she’d been struggling with injuries for a long time and really was unsure about even making it to Fish Hatchery, let alone finishing. She was out and gonna do it!!!! Strong woman right there. Me meanwhile… I sat down and drank the ginger ale Andy brought me. I nibbled an M & M, a potato chip, I sucked the sugar off a gummy thing. Kathi’s husband was there and gave me a Perpetuem tablet. I managed two bites of that. I was seriously thinking I was going to have to drop here. Again. 7 miles left and another DNF. I’d even joked to Amy on the way into See, “I’ll make further in Zane this year, but not make it any further.” (Last year it was 46 miles at See Canyon, this year it was like 48). I knew the trail out of See Canyon, it sucks even on a good day. On a day where every uphill makes you puke? Inconceivable. I was cold and shaking under a down puffy coat and fleece blanket. My lips were purple. I looked like a salty zombie. It seemed unwise to continue. I’d essentially had nothing to eat or drink since Fish, apparently preferring to leave it all on the trail. But I had a thought. I still had time to leave the aid station, and as long as you leave See Canyon by cutoff, you can take as long as you need to finish. What if I just walked out, and Andy stayed at See Canyon for a little while. I would know pretty quickly if I was going to continue with the puking. If the puking continued, Amy could run back and tell Andy and I would come back to See. If the puking stopped? I could finish. I broached the idea and my crew agreed. I got up and walked out.

The first tenth of a mile I felt horrible. It was slow. I was zipped up in the down coat and the fleece was around my shoulders and I was shaking, teeth chattering. But as we got moving a little, I started to warm up. We hit the first uphill and I didn’t need to puke. I took off the fleece, eventually, unzipped the coat, and booked it up the hill. Still just hiking, but it was a very fast hike. I decided not to drink anything. I was afraid of pissing off my stomach again. I’d had an entire cup of ginger ale at See, and I’d peed just before that, plus it was cold now, I should be good enough.

 It got dark, and there was the flashlight making me think of Laurie. I shined my light on the trail and Amy’s feet ahead of me and I just followed her feet. We chatted. I was so incredibly thankful for everything she’d done for me that day. I knew that I would not have made it that far without her. This entire day was a group effort, all to get me across the finish line. From Laurie giving me a light at the start, to Kathi and I pushing and pulling each other for the first part of the race, to the NUMEROUS friends I’d seen along the journey, leapfrogging with them, laughing, (some finishing, some not), to good ultra friends at the aid stations, to Andy being there and encouraging me and helping me, to Amy helping me puke and pulling me along the hardest part of the trail: I’d needed and was so thankful for every single person there that day. So, she and I hoofed it. At the top of the See climb, the landscape opens up. Looking west, towards where I’d started out the day, I could see a promontory of the Rim. There was a low lying cloud stringing out just below its peak in silhouette, otherwise the sky was clear and the moon was gorgeous. It was beautiful and peaceful. I was grateful I’d made it to this familiar spot on this very hard day.

The next handful of miles to the finish are a blur. I was so very tired. Amy set a strong pace and I just kept up. The dark closed in around me, but Amy was there. Eventually there was a sign saying we had 1 mile left. I was so exhausted, I wasn’t even excited about this, I just wanted to be done. Then Amy said we only had a quarter of a mile left. I just agreed. I had no idea about anything by then. Suddenly Amy stepped aside and said, “You’re there! There’s the finish! Go get it!” So I did.

I crossed that line, my watch reading 55.8 miles (50 miles my ass) and then just sat down in the grass. I didn’t want to move anymore. Andy was there and gave me a space blanket. Somehow I was covered in my fleece blanket again. I was shaking and cold, and tired, but I’d made it. I’d gone 20 miles with essentially no food or fluids except for a cup of ginger ale, but I’d made it. Somehow I was up off the ground and in a chair. My friend Miguel came and congratulated me. He’d paced his girlfriend the last 20 miles and declared Zane, “Efn hard.” I think I agree. Kathi’s husband was there and gave me a gift from Kathi (she’d finished, OF COURSE, but she’d needed to go). Andy put my finisher’s medal, picture, and jacket in my lap. (Just to let you know how fuzzy my head was, after Andy read this blog post, he informed me that Kathi’s husband was not there. Do not trust the ultra brain.)

The medic came to check on me again. He asked me where I was. This confused me. Where the fuck do you think I am? I just finished Zane. I’m at 260 Trailhead. Is this a trick question? He laughed. He asked me how I was feeling: cold, tired, sad, happy. How much detail do you need? He seemed pretty happy with my responses, but asked if I wanted them to take my vitals just to be sure. That seemed like a good idea, and I told him so. He agreed. I showed him my Fat Bastard hands, and told him when that had started. My blood pressure was 113/82, I think my pulse was 88 and blood O2 was 97 (apparently I still had the faculties to remember numbers). He was satisfied with these, and with the fact that I was interacting with and joking with him. He warned me not to blast the heat, or get in too hot of a shower, or I might pass out. Otherwise, I was good to go.

So, that was my Zane. My hands are returning to normal, slowly, my left one more than my right. But they at least have some contours again, so that’s positive.

I’d never heard of, let alone contemplated ultras before hearing about Zane. Once I learned they were a thing, I really wanted to run one, so I did. Then I ran another, and another. Zane was always my bucket list race since it was the first I’d heard of. DNF’ing it last year was so hard, but I learned so much from that experience, and I knew I had to come back and try again. As I think about how I feel, I’m excited. I remember my first ultra, a 50k, and how horrible my body felt afterwards. I feel better than that. I’m stronger, both physically and mentally, than I was then. But being stronger would not have mattered a bit in my goal of finishing this race were it not for every single person I’ve mentioned in this post, and the numerous others I know my blurred ultra-head missed. Thank you, my ultra family.

Featured Image stolen from my husband. Check out his work here: https://afifield59.wixsite.com/dedtekdesigns

 

Runner’s Lullabye

All you have is your fire
And the place you need to reach
Don’t you ever tame your demons
But always keep them on a leash

       Arsonist’s Lullabye, Hozier

2016 is wrapping up and I finally find myself in a frame of mind to write again. This year has been hard, very hard. Actually, the beginning of it was great, but I’m here now, at the end, so I will write about the latter half.

Adjusting to graduate school was difficult and something I wasn’t ready for, but I doubt I ever would have been. Kind of like a race, it’s something you just have to jump in and do. I never handle difficulty with grace, EVER. I would love to handle everything looking like Audrey Hepburn, but instead I am… well… see below….

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Plus, I think it makes people a little teeny bit uncomfortable when they greet you with, “Hey, how are you?” and you answer with, “Shitty.” Sometimes I try to make it a little more palatable with things such as, “Meh”, “It’s rough”, or “I’m hanging in there”, but even those make people kind of chuckle a bit and move on. I dunno, I hate the fake. What can I say?

So I ran.

A beloved family member died suddenly and unexpectedly half way through the semester. I’m not sure I will ever be completely okay from that. I have this big ass brain and can do the science, but I cannot understand how this person is no longer here. Seriously makes no sense to me. Random things remind me of them and I start crying at inappropriate moments (see images above).

So I ran.

These past few months have brought a multitude of other things which I will not go into here. Wrenching things. Things I don’t understand. I am left here alone, fractured, shattered, and yet, I have grown. I am certainly not who I was at the beginning of this year; I have hurt, I have aged, I am changed.

And I run.

This broken heart has found beauty through running; the pain driving me to seek and to move. I have explored innumerable new trails. I have seen new views. I have met incredible new people. I have eaten new foods. I have learned more about my fears. The dark night is my blanket and the dawn my lover. I run with them, I find grace in them, and I am whole.

All I have is my fire
And the place I need to reach
I will never tame my demons
But always keep them on a leash

Silverton 1000

             On a whim I took a weekend jaunt back up to Silverton, CO, and jumped in on the Silverton 1000 race. I couldn’t help myself, I needed to be back in those mountains. Grabbing the kids out of school early on Friday, we made the trek, driving along the Million Dollar Highway in the dark. I’d heard about the deer issue along that road and we were able to count 20. Who knows how many were just out of our line of sight. I was as freaked out driving that as I get about rattlesnakes in the summer. Lovely. Anyway, it was fine and we arrived in Silverton around 11:30pm. Totally wiped, I somehow managed to set up the tent that Aravaipa gave me, get all our crap into the tent and grab a few hours of chilly sleep.

              The Silverton 1000 is on a one mile loop on the outskirts of Silverton. Taking place at 9,318 feet (Silverton’s elevation), it features 250 feet of gain per mile. There are a number of different events in this one race- being woefully untrained, I was just there to toss in 6 hours. Many people were doing multi-day efforts. They were seriously incredible to watch!

              I picked up my bib and was all set for the 9:00am start (LOVE the late start!). My goal was to get in as many miles as I could by 3:00pm. I wanted at least 20 and was hoping for around 24, but whatever. This was to be fun!

              I enjoy races that are of an hour format like this was. They have a much more relaxed feel to them. I hiked the ups and ran all the downs and flats – lap after lap. Having the aid station available to me every mile made it nice because I didn’t need to carry any water or food. Plus, there were wild raspberries on the trail! There were two laps where I purposely walked the entire thing in order to get some rest, and I picked lots of berries on the way. Doing laps like this is also fun because you get to see everyone regularly and chat about how they’re doing and where they’re at.

               As I ran the day away, my kids played in the woods and made some new local friends! Forts and dams and mountains, oh my! It was sad that it was only for the day, but we plan on reconnecting whenever either of us is in the other’s vicinity. It really made my heart happy for my kids to get to experience the woods like that. I also did a couple of laps with each of them which was fun!

              The first half of the race I held onto my 4 mile an hour “big” goal pace just fine, but my complete lack of training and sleep started to catch up with me and I had to slow down on the second half. Who knew a measly 250 feet of gain per mile would start to feel exhausting? I finished up my 6 hours with 22 miles, which I was happy with!

              There were 4 of us who ran the 6 hour event, and I got 1st girl, 2nd overall! Yay!

              After the run, I walked down to Avalanche Brewing for some dinner and just enjoyed the feeling of my favorite town. Tourists were coming and going, and I wandered slowly and relaxed. The kids and I then went to bed early to the sounds of Jamil making a new Mountain Outpost.

              Because our first night was a little chilly, we borrowed some extra sleeping bags. It turned out that it was really good we did so. I actually got all stupid hot and sweaty during the night and was removing layers, but in the morning, there was frost all over! It would’ve been a miserable night without those extra bags. I did my best taking down and packing up my tent. It kind of looked like a toddler on crack packed it (sorry about that Dave). We reloaded the car and were on the road back home on time – no problem!

              MY TAKEAWAY: Silverton is incredible, but I think you already know this. We drove for around 9 hours and arrived late Friday night, then left Sunday morning to drive another 9 hours back home. Was it worth it? Absolutely. Not even a question. Would I do it again? YES. I would do it just for Silverton. Throw in the Silverton 1000 to boot and you’ve got yourself the makings of the best whirlwind party weekend EVER. EVERYBODY can come up for the race. It’s a one mile loop! Kids can run amuck in the woods! Even people who don’t run can come and hang and hike a loop when they feel like it (if they feel like it) and see everybody and have a party. Where the 1000 takes place is a great place for camping and people can camp all over. Party all along the trail! Not into camping? Silverton is small and everything is within walking distance, including great hotels. Next year peeps! Let’s make this happen!

*Featured image photo credit of the 6 hour finishers belongs to Dave James.

Kendall Mountain Run – Silverton, CO

Silverton Colorado, my dear one. How can a fairy tale upon which I’ve trespassed only once, and briefly at that, become my heart? How did that happen? It has been two weeks since I visited nirvana, and I must return.

Silverton is a tiny old mining town in the heart of the San Juan Mountains. The train from Durango comes in during the summer days bearing loads of tourists who shop in the shops, eat the local food, and take in the local history. At night, after the tourists have left the town is very quiet and you are left with looming mountains and a bright open sky.

THE VACATION PART

We decided on a weeklong family vacation to Silverton, culminating in mom (that would be me) doing the Kendall Mountain 12 Mile Run. This run begins in downtown Silverton at 9,318 feet, goes to the top of Kendall Mountain at 13,066 feet, and then back down into town. I was nervous about the altitude, but figured I’d have an idea of my adaptability in a week.

After a long tiring drive into town, we arrived at the Triangle Motel which was our basecamp for the week. We’d paid for a super basic room with no kitchen or microwave or anything, and they upgraded us to a suite for free! It was clean and comfortable and we loved it. We all crashed hard that night.

On our first day we hiked to Ice Lakes. I have never seen lakes this color of turquoise! The mountains were blanketed in wildflowers. There were streams flowing everywhere. The hike is uphill all the way to the lake, but it was so much fun! While I didn’t struggle with the altitude (amazing since I always do) our son was getting over a pretty bad chest cold and really had a hard time. So by the time we made it up to the lake, the afternoon storms were rolling in and it was time to get off the mountain.

After finishing the hike we drove the Million Dollar Highway into the neighboring town of Ouray where we walked on the main street just a bit. I’m afraid the Ice Lakes hike killed our son though, so exploring Ouray was short and we just ate and went back to the motel. The mining history visible on this road was incredible and all I wanted to do was stop and explore it all.

The next day I went and explored a tiny bit of the Colorado Trail from Little Molas Lake. From this campground, I headed east on the trail, quickly crossing over Highway 550 and entering a meadow where I had views of Molas Lake and all the surrounding mountains. I just wanted a short run on this day, so after getting to an incredible water fall at about 2.5 miles out, I turned around, stopping to watch deer in the meadow on my way. Turning around was difficult with all of that trail stretching out ahead of me!

After getting back and showering, we visited the Silverton Museum located in the old jail. Again with the mining history- it’s amazing. I don’t enjoy history in general; I REALLY don’t care about all the dates of who did what to who. But this was personal. This wasn’t dates. Walking through this old jail I could imagine the people who’d been here before and their lives. Learning about the bar brawls, the hard mining life, and the houses of ill repute, I could see these young men’s lives. In the black and whites on the walls I could see their faces. Their lives, their stories, were real.

I think it was that night that the real personality of Silverton hit home. We went out to the Rum Bar where my friend Erica was working for the summer and where we found out that another friend of mine, Christian, was in town for the race too. We had game night and had a great time meeting people! It’s all about the people, always the people.

The next day (I think) I got up early and ran with Christian up to the Christ of the Mines Shrine and then a little way out the Rainbow Trail which is a part of the Hardrock 100 course. So fun!

Later, my family and I visited the Old Hundred Mine located just outside of Silverton, for a tour. Again, incredible. The kids had fun “panning” for gold while we waited for our tour to begin. It was drippy and cold in the mine. Our tour guide, who’d been a miner himself, made the lives of the miners real to us once again as he described the evolution of hardrock mining. I was seriously wowed by the ingenuity and feats of engineering that go into something like that.

That night (I think? It all begins to run together at some point) we went out to Avalanche Brewing for dinner and to say hi to Kelly (also in town for the summer) and then to the Rum Bar. We again had an incredible time hanging out with Erica and Christian and met a new awesome friend Jesse.

The next day we rented a Jeep and did the Alpine Loop. This 60+ mile, four-wheel-drive loop takes you on a tour of the surrounding mountains, passing ghost towns along the way. We stopped in the ghost town of Animas Forks to wander through the old buildings. On the way up Engineer Pass we saw a huge herd of sheep and numerous tarns (small mountain lakes). We stopped at the top of Engineer and watched the incoming storms, which eventually hit us as I took over driving. I really enjoyed driving the Jeep and it drove home how badly I need a four-wheel-drive, high clearance vehicle! In so many places the road was super narrow with a steep drop off and no barrier, but that just made it more fun! It was wild and beautiful.

THE RACE PART

Race morning came and I felt great. I walked down to the start line which was literally the middle of the main street and no actual line. The gun went off (like an actual gun) and we ran. My entire strategy was just to make it up and back. I wasn’t concerned about my time because I know how much I typically struggle at higher altitudes. So I ran the easy parts and hiked most of the uphill. The lower, easier uphills I ran okay, but that was it.

Very quickly we were in the trees, with breaks looking out over Silverton, which we were very quickly above. Soon I saw the first 11K runners coming back and I of course thought how wonderful it would be to already be on the way down and almost done. But the peak… there was no way I could be this close and not peak it.

Just past the first aid station is where the mountain opened up its glory. There was this expansive, verdant meadow with burbling streams making their way down. I expected to see hobbits and wizards and elves drinking beer and smoking Pipe-weed. I got to watch the front runners come barreling past me- all focus and speed and drive. Runners are amazing people. The best part was getting to see my friends as they made their way back down, all looking strong!

This race runs up a Jeep road, but the last little bit to the top is a loose scramble. That was probably my favorite aspect of the trail. I love scrambling. It was loose and slippery and so fun! I was excited to run back down.

I hit the top and Jubilee was there capturing the looks of “WTH!” on all of our faces, with the Rockies spread out behind us. I touched the giant cairn there at the peak and then bombed back down the scramble. By bombed I mean did a running slide the whole way.

Normally the downhill is my jam, but on this day I got side stitches and instead was managing those the whole way down, but I was okay. I was just… so… happy!

As soon as I hit the flat for the run into town I realized how much gravity had been pulling me down the mountain. My legs were super flat. I rounded a corner and my husband was there taking pictures- he’d volunteered for the race. Our kids were nearby playing in the river. That was so nice! They followed me as I ran into the finish line.

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Kendall Mountain in the Background

Afterwards I hung out talking to everyone about their race. Everybody did so well!

That night there was an after party at the Rum Bar which doubled as a farewell party for Erica since she would be making her way back home. We stayed a little bit late, maybe spent a little bit of money… but what an amazing night.

THE SAPPY PART

“Life is short and we have never too much time for gladdening the hearts of those who are travelling the dark journey with us. Oh be swift to love, make haste to be kind.” Henri Frederic Amiel

This quote sums up my “summer camp” in Silverton. My heart was gladdened. I’m going to cheese it up now… ready? From dear old friends from Phoenix to dear new friends made during this dream, you brought light to my journey.

*Muah!

 

 

 

Smelly Armchair Musings: On My Zane Grey 50 and DNF’ing

How do you write about a failure? How do you share it in a way that reflects your true feelings, but that is also palatable to those around you? I don’t know. So I’ll just do like I tell my children and “word vomit”, letting the words fall where they may.

I went into the Zane Grey race with trepidation. I’d injured my calf and I had taken time off to try to let it heal. I had no idea how Zane would go.

The night before I scoped out the start line so I’d know where I was going in the morning. The smell of pines in the air was fresh and wonderful. I walked the first few feet of the trail barefoot and enjoyed the dirt underfoot.

Race morning came and the start was electric. Everyone was excited and talking and there were so many friends there! That was wonderful, but I was very in my head, making it difficult to engage very much.

The race began in the dark, so headlamps bobbed and flashlights weaved. We were tight together on the trail, rubbing elbows, watching out for pine cones. We were an ebbing and flowing stream, slowing and accelerating as one.

My injured calf felt okay until, while still within that first mile I stumbled and caught myself on it. It had felt a little tight but at this point it cramped up and felt rotten, ripped. I tried to keep running and couldn’t, so I moved to the side and started walking. I contemplated going back to the start line. If I couldn’t run, what the hell was I going to do? I tried stretching it. Eventually the raw feeling calmed down and I was able to maintain a light jog.

I recognized the voices of friends up ahead of me on the trail as the quiet grey light of early dawn began to give shape to the forest around us. It was peaceful, incredible, fulfilling, but what was wrong with my body? Calf aside, my body felt sluggish, bonky, and at the slightest incline my heart was racing. In a race filled with uphills, that wasn’t a good sign. What to do? Go back to the start? It was close. Or keep going?

A little back story on DNF’ing. Two years ago I made my first attempt at a 100K at the Javelina Jundred in McDowell Mountain Regional Park. It consisted of four loops on the Pemberton Trail, a trail I know well. My first two loops were fine, but my third loop was not. Excruciating IT Band pain hobbled me and I walked the entire third loop. I started out power hiking, but by the end of this loop I’d cried a legion of tears and was unable to bend my knee. 45 miles in and I called it. I didn’t have another loop in me. I DNF’d. But was that my best? Was that everything I had to give? It was evening at the end of that third loop which bolstered the feeling of hopelessness. What if I had slept for a few hours and tried for that last loop? My knee still would have hurt, but could I have made it? I don’t know, and I’ll never know now. That DNF taught me something so cliché, but something I think we each must learn on our own and in our own way; never give up. I was ashamed of this race, ashamed I didn’t finish it, ashamed of the unknown, and so I never really talked about it, and certainly never blogged about it, until now.

And so, as awful as I felt so early in my benchmark race, I would not give up. I resolved to make them pull me off the course. If I was ahead of the cut-offs for each aid station then I would keep going.

I made it into the first aid station at 8 miles doing okay. I think I was thirty minutes ahead of the cut off, so I was doing fine. Plus, a number of my friends were here volunteering. It is such a boost to see familiar faces along the race- I love it!

At some point, Meghan Trainor’s “Dear Future Husband” began making its rounds through my head.

The whole race ran along the base of the Mogollon Rim. It was incredible and I knew I was desperately, head over heels, in love with this trail. I snapped photos with my phone, moving as quickly as I could. At the second aid station I was greeted by more friends. I was still ahead of the cut-off, though not as far.

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Dang it Meghan Trainor. How many times can one line of a song go through one person’s head?

Third aid station- I was definitely slipping but still ahead of the cut off, so I ate quickly and got out of there.

Zane Grey

At Zane Grey 50 Mile Race

The next aid station was where my husband and children would be waiting for me and was at mile 33.5, just 9.5 miles from the third aid station. But I was so slow. So slow. My body was done. My quads were shot. I wanted to quit. I wanted to just sit down and be done, right there on the side of the trail. But how would I get to my family? I had to keep moving: no sitting, no stopping, no quitting, one foot in front of the other. But I was so slow. Nothing was working correctly. I trudged along, thoughts of Javelina flitting through my head, and Meghan Trainor of course. I cried, feeling sorry for myself, starting to give up, then, “No Amber! No quitting! No slowing down on purpose! Keep going!” Then I cried again, listened to the Meghan Trainor song in my head again, thought about Javelina again, the cycle continued. I refused to look at my watch because I didn’t want to know how slowly I was moving. I was POSITIVE I was behind cut off and would be done at Fish Hatchery.

I came upon a section of trail that looked odd- I was pretty sure I was on track, but I was getting all messed up in my head and hadn’t seen any ribbons. Just behind me were two men who said we were good and on trail still. Then one of them said we were still fine, still ahead of cut-off. What??!?!?!? How??!?!?! I was disappointed because I wanted to be done so badly, but I still had a chance and I really did want to finish. We ran into the aid station. And I burst into tears, there was my family and more friends. Everyone had been worried about me- I was hours behind when I normally would have made it to this point. I had to make a decision- keep going or be done? I only had ten minutes to get out of that aid station if I was going to keep going. Everything hurt, I didn’t want to go anymore, and the next section was supposed to be the hardest of the entire trail. I was a hot mess, but I would not repeat Javelina. I grabbed food and water and got out of there. I asked my husband to meet me at the next aid station, See Canyon, because I didn’t know if I’d make it there in time and because if I did, I needed to see him.

I walked out of the aid station, eating as I went. Meghan Trainor kept up her noisy vigil in my head. I crossed streams, I got passed by other runners. I reflected on the fact that for the first time in my life I was running in the back of the pack, it was a new experience for me. I wasn’t trying to beat anyone, I certainly wasn’t being competitive, I was just trying to finish.

 

More people passed me. Then, the dreaded event happened- the sweeps caught me. They were very kind. They made sure I was okay and then they hung back and gave me my space. I appreciated that because then I cried a bunch. I’d already climbed the big hills, the rest was relatively easy-ish into See Canyon so damn it but I was going to cover it running. Ha-ha, running! It was a running motion, but it was as fast as I could go.

Meghan Trainor ran with me. Then she walked with me when I couldn’t hold that motion anymore- but I did power hike like a crazy white suburbanite mom in the park on a Tuesday morning. The soothing grey of evening began filtering in through the trees, slowly blurring the edges and making the forest soft again. The breeze brushed against my skin. I could hear the people at the aid station, and then I was there. Again, the rushing torrent of tears erupted out of my face as I hugged my husband with my nasty self. About 46 miles in and just 6.8 miles left of the race, I’d missed the cut off by about 15 minutes. I was pulled.

Sitting in the dirt, I cried in disappointment and relief. So close. However, Meghan Trainor was finally gone, thank goodness.

I’d failed. I DNF’d my race. I was angry. Sad. Disappointed. Frustrated. And yet oddly, I was incredibly proud of myself. I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I’d left every last piece of me out there on that trail. I gave everything that I had and on this day it wasn’t enough. There was peace in that. I’d found a new strength in that which wasn’t there when I began the race that morning. I’d heard many people say that the majority of ultra-running is mental and I’d thought I understood that- I hadn’t. Whenever I get to attempting my first hundred I’m sure I’ll revisit my understanding of the mental capacity required in ultra-running, but for this day I had a new found knowledge.  

So, now you hold my word vomit in your hands, filled, apparently, with a ridiculous amount of tears (what can I say, I’m an emotional person). What will you do with it?

😉

Run on.

Aravaipa Mesquite Canyon 50K Race Report

My excitement was through the roof on Saturday afternoon; I had just peed, and my pee was an excellent light yellow color! I was all ready to crow about this to my friends until I realized where I was: at a Luau party in a beautiful home with people who don’t particularly enjoy running. Note to self: not an appropriate environment to discuss bodily functions. I calmly walked out of the bathroom, oddly still wrestling with the desire to boast about my urination prowess. The struggle is real, folks, the struggle is real.

Why was I so exultant about my ability to pee and its color? At 7:30 that morning I toed the start line for the Mesquite Canyon 50K, the finale for the DRT Series put on by Aravaipa Running. After any long run, especially if it is also a warm run, my goal afterwards is to drink until I start peeing. If I also pee during the race and/or directly after, all the better. So, my ability to urinate at my friend’s party (some giggles here, this is funny) had me extremely proud of myself.

My main thought at the start of this race was how ready I was for a long run. More and more frequently I find myself craving this familiar, quiet, settled-in frame of mind. I was ready to go.

The race started out fast and easy along the base of the White Tank Mountains at White Tank Mountain Regional Park, before running through the first aid station (at mile 2.4) and then turning right up into the mountains. I was quite familiar with this first switch-backing climb, having completed it a couple of times before at other races. It’s steep, but I had a good power hike up and before I knew it, I was up and out.

I was quickly at the second aid station at Mesquite Canyon and again, rather than stopping I merely made sure they had my number (they were checking runners in and out of the aid station) and kept going. As I hiked up the hill from here I reflected that this was probably going to be a very slow race because I was hiking so much of it (lots of uphill).

When the grade wasn’t too steep I ran, just working on keeping moving at a steady pace. I ran for a long time with my new friend Jonathan, discussing trails and trips. Eventually we hit trail that was brand new to me and I was enthralled. We were just a little below the towers, and the views out over the valley from these mountains were stunning, not to mention that we were running on single track and the luscious desert landscape that was closer in was simply begging to be gazed upon.

I knew that sometime soon I would be coming upon the first of two gnarly hills in this race, “Goat Camp”. After swooping along comfortably for miles, I rounded a corner and the trail simply dropped into a pristine example of divine, rocky technicality. My heart soared as I picked up the pace, arms flung wide for balance, allowing my feet to fall and slide down the slope. This dance I can do, I know it well. There was no time to think, I simply ran with gravity and we were one.  

Once the hill flattened out, I could feel the fatigue in my quads from my fun. I also needed a bathroom. Like really bad. I was desperately hoping for a toilet at the Bajada aid station, but just in case, I started eyeing the wash I was running next to for likely relief locations. Thankfully there was a toilet and I didn’t need to use nature’s litter box.

13.3 miles into the race and I felt great. The day was proving comfortable. Beforehand I’d been concerned about the heat, but that was not even an issue on this day. I refilled my pack and headed back out. I now had to climb UP the magnificent hill that I’d just bombed down. I ran along easily on the lower portions which were a gentle incline and then hiked the rest. I was up quickly and gone, back towards the Mesquite Canyon aid station.

I was feeling good until I started to feel my usual beginning twinges of side stitches. Why? Every. Single. Time. So frustrating. I had to slow down periodically because they’d get really bad, but when I was able to run through them, I tried to figure out what was going on. I tried breathing out when the foot on the same side as the stitch struck the ground. That sort of helped, but then what do you do when it spreads to both sides??? So, nope. I tried tightening my abs. Nope. Relaxing my abs. Nope. Then I tried just relaxing my whole body, especially my shoulders: “Ahhhhh.” I started to feel better! These stitches have become an issue on most long runs. They tend to eventually go away after a handful of miles (usually six or so) but I’d rather not deal with them in the first place.

I was able to pick my pace back up into Mesquite Canyon aid where I refilled my pack again. I was starting to chafe so I lubed up. I also snarfed a bunch of food and reapplied sunscreen, forgetting the small of my back. Oops.

I was off again to climb the hill out of this aid station for the second time that day. But this time I would be turning away from Bajada aid and towards the final stretch of the race which included the second gnarly hill in Ford Canyon. I only had about 8 miles left and I was done.

The trail up to Ford Canyon was fun; slightly technical, single track, pretty sights. I chugged along until the trail crested, and then it was a super fun bomb down the hill into the Ford Canyon wash. The wash was, well, a wash. Nice thick sand to slog through, with no clear trail per se. But it was pretty obvious that the wash was the trail, and the black polka-dotted orange ribbons placed as course markers simply confirmed I was going the right way. At a couple of places the wash was interesting with white rocks I had to scramble over (I love scrambling). I had assumed the entire Ford Canyon was in the wash, but suddenly, the trail veered up and to the right, out of the wash. I rounded a corner and there was this huge white boulder cliff face that, if there’d been flowing water, would have been a magnificent waterfall. I was exclaiming and hooting as I ran down the Ford Canyon trail. It was all filled with big rocks and again I was hopping all over and having a blast! I rounded a corner and suddenly, there was the Ford Canyon aid station. I took a second to eat a few bites, but then was off, having only about 2 miles left to the finish.

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Coming into Ford Canyon Aid Photo Credit: Matthew Hinman

I pushed these last miles and did my best not to walk. For the final mile I picked up the pace. My breathing was ragged but I knew I was almost done. I kept seeing the finish line tents in between the bushes, but I never seemed to be on the final stretch, until I was, and then I was done.

My friend Benedict was at the finish line taking pictures and he gave me a sweaty congratulatory hug. I was given my finisher glass which I filled with coke, and went and talked to my friends, who were either there giving congratulations or had had good races themselves. I also claimed my free pizza from Freak Brothers (nomnomnom) and relaxed, waiting for other friends to finish their races and for my husband to come and pick me up.

Remember how I’d been concerned that this would be a slow race? Well, I finished in about 6 hours and 30 minutes, which for me was phenomenal and I felt good about it. I was 7th female and 25th overall.

I also finished this race with some beautiful examples of excoriation (chafing- cool word, right?) and bright red sunburn (this on my lower back where I forgot to reapply that sunscreen). The stinging upon contact with hot shower water was exquisite (said with much sarcasm).

This race is by far my favorite of the DRT races. I’d wanted something with some climbing and technicality as training for Zane Grey and this delivered. My watch gave me somewhere around 4700 feet of climbing and as I’ve already said, this had some really fun technical stretches. That combined with the scenery made this race an epic way to end the DRT series and one that I can’t wait to run again.

And now my tale has come full circle. From the race I went to my friend’s Luau party and you know the rest!

Run on.

Featured Photo Credit: Matthew Hinman

Aravaipa Black Canyon 60K Race Report: Why Women have the Advantage when Running in the Heat

I have to tell you that I believe women have an advantage over men when racing in the heat. This is not based on any scientific fact, nor on any studies and is therefore anecdotal in nature and likely entirely erroneous. With these cautions in mind, you proceed in reading the rest of this post at your own peril. Any conclusions you come to are based on this decidedly unreliable information.

So there I was running the Black Canyon 60K. It was glorious, I mean seriously glorious. The start at Mayer high school was freezing cold (I’m pretty sure I can say that literally). We started out our race with a brisk jog around the high school track and then headed off through town towards the Black Canyon trail. Hitting that sweet single track, my head settled comfortably, and with familiarity, into long run mentality. My entire body relaxed.

I have run all of the sections of Black Canyon trail from Mayer to the New River trail head, albeit never at one go. On this day I was only running the first 38 miles. Because I knew the entire trail, I was well aware of how downhill the first 20 or so miles were, so my plan was just to try to not go too fast. I figured if I kept my overall pace at about 10:00 minutes/mile I’d be fine since that was a super easy downhill pace for me. Some miles were faster, some were slower, but overall I held it there pretty well.

I ran along, chatting with Matt, having a great time enjoying the views. It was a different experience having him there with me for that first part of the race. I’m so used to running these longer races in relative solitude that it felt really odd (but nice!) to have someone there to talk to. It was along here that Patchouli Dude first caught up to us.

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Me, Matt, and Patchouli Dude Photo Credit: Ron Ceton

 

I call him Patchouli Dude because, well, he wears Patchouli (totally original, I know). We talked for a little bit- he was from out of town and was really enjoying the beautiful views of the surrounding mountains, and not knowing what the trail ahead of him was like. He and I would leap frog back and forth for the remainder of the race.

I blew through the first aid station- it was only a few miles in and I didn’t need to slow down for anything, so I pulled ahead of Patchouli Dude.

As we continued our descent, I could feel the desert begin to warm up.

Coming into the second aid station I refilled my pack with water, grabbed a few bites and moved out. I think I got some sunscreen here too.

I started to feel a little tired in the next stretch, and it was warming up, but all was well, for me, into the next aid station. I was quite happy to see a porta potty here! It was disgusting, and yet, I am always so thankful for nasty toilets when I’m out running. Oddly, it’s sort of a bit of luxury out in the desert. Unfortunately, Matt and I had to split up here. We walked out of the aid station, but I was ready to run again shortly, so I took off.

I’m not gonna lie, the next stretch was hot. It’s a shorty, only around 4.5 miles or so to the next aid station, but oof. I trudged along, feeling every pulse of the pounding Arizona sun. Patchouli Dude passed me. I just kept in mind that it wasn’t that far and I had plenty of water. The aid station couldn’t get there fast enough, and I was so glad to see it! Here I refilled my pack with water again and headed straight for the ice chest.

Remember how I said women have an advantage over men in the heat? Well, here it is. At the ice chest I stuffed my bra with as much ice as I possibly could. The first cubes hitting my skin made me yelp, but I kept filling, getting ice all over and around, ahem, everything. I instantly cooled down. Not only do women usually wear sports bras which easily hold loads of ice, we have greater surface area (read: we have boobies) which allow for more contact with ice leading to better evaporation and cooling as compared to men. See? Women have an advantage in the heat!

I left this aid station with much jostling and rattling occurring between my hooters, however I was no longer even remotely hot. I felt like I was running on a comfortable sunny day, not a care in the world. I ran along, at some point I passed Patchouli Dude, but I don’t remember where.

Somewhere along the trail I fell, though thankfully it was a slightly inclined part of the trail. I had blood running down my pinky and my leg, but it looked way worse than it really was. Somebody called it “trail paint” and I think I will use that from now on! Love it!

Somewhere on one of the awesome downhills I had to slow down because something in my calf was bothering me. I walked for a bit and stretched to try to get it to go away, but it was hanging around for the day. So I tried running to see if it would get worse. It didn’t, it was just there, so I just took it easy on the downs to not make it worse.

Eventually the portable A/C system between my breasts began to disappear. It’s ice and it was hot, so I suppose that was expected (sigh). But just as I was out of ice, the first river crossing came into view! The other times I’ve done this section of the trail it was just a little creek. This was a deep, running river, at least for Arizona. Perhaps for anywhere else it was just a creek crossing. Anyway, as I ran down the hill to the RIVER (I’m sticking with river, it was a river) I chucked my pack on the bank, ran into the middle of the river and laid full out. The water was COLD. I popped back up, grabbed my pack, and ran on up the hill.

That river crossing kept me cool until I hit the next aid station, at which point I was starting to feel hot again, and a little nauseous. I again stuffed my bra with ice and again I felt so much better. I refilled my pack with water for the final miles to the finish.

I ran along feeling pretty good. I felt fatigue in my legs, but overall I felt okay. Coming down to the second RIVER crossing I was again running low on boob ice, but a quick dowse in the water and I was good for the final few miles to the finish. I walked out of this crossing because it’s sandy with big loose river rocks and I was tired. Behind me, you’ll never guess, it was Patchouli Dude! I hadn’t seen him for a little bit. He said, “You have no idea how hard I had to run to catch you!” Aw, so sweet. We chatted and I mentioned that there was now a big hill before the down to the finish. He was no happier about this than I was.

This hill… The first couple of times I ran this route I was unable to run this hill. I was at the tail end of about 18 miles each time and I was tired and the hill just felt so big and so difficult; I always had to walk it. Then one day I was out and just did a quick out and back from the trail head I was now running towards and realized this hill was not as steep as I’d always felt. Bolstered with this knowledge, I did my best to run it, and you know what? I actually ran the hill! Yeah, that’s right! On the last few miles of a 38 mile run, I ran the hill! Ha-ha! Take that, hill!

I crested the hill and I could hear Patchouli Dude behind me. I really wanted to stay ahead but there was a rock in my shoe. Typically I don’t worry about this and just keep running and it’s not a big deal, but this one was under my arch and not moving and was hurting quite a bit. I had to stop to take it out. Patchouli Dude passed me and I didn’t have enough left in me to catch him again. So we ran into the finish line and I cheered him on, “Run Patchouli Dude, Run!” He finished a few seconds ahead of me.

I beat the 8 hour mark, which for this race I felt really good about.  I took 25th overall, out of 64, and 11th female, out of 32. I sat there enjoying the finish line camaraderie while waiting for Matt to finish, and chatted with a new friend (Israel) who I also leap frogged with on the trail, and I found out Patchouli Dude’s name (it’s Todd).

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My new friend Israel, Me, and my Trail Paint Photo Credit: Israel

Later I went down to the 100K finish line to get me some free (for all finishers) Freak Brother’s Pizza. I hung out with my buddies (thanks Jon and Erica!) until I’d finished snarfing those marvelous calories. I then headed for home; tired, but incredibly happy and content, with another incredible day in the desert under my belt.

Me and Erica

Erica and I at the 100K Finish Line Photo Credit: Erica

So are you Yay or Nay on icing it up while running? How do you keep cool during a hot race?

Featured Image Photo Credit: Not Me, Maybe Matt?