Category Archives: Trail Running

Dodging Rattlesnakes

This morning I headed to the Supe’s to visit an old dear friend of mine, Dutchman Trail. I hadn’t run this trail in a long time, and my plan for today was a simple, easy-paced long ONB.

The run started out pretty great. At dawn, it was overcast and looked like rain. Since I wasn’t sure if I’d get poured on or not, I opted to leave my phone since I didn’t have a way to keep it dry. Of all the runs to leave my phone, this was not it.

I slipped along this familiar trail, memories of friends and adventures gone by trailing through my mind. I was happy when I saw water flowing in the early washes- this meant that I’d have plenty to drink on this run (I’d brought my Sawyer Mini- if you don’t have one, get one, they’re a life saver, literally). Approaching the water, tiny toads the size of my fingertip threw their bitty little hoppy bodies out of my way. There were hundreds of them! I did my best not to step on them.

Climbing the saddle I looked out over the valley below and Weaver’s Needle ahead of me as the sun pushed its fingers through the clouds. There are no words. None. I started composing poems in my head.

I began bombing the downhill, my fave, and then…. It began. “It?” you may ask. Yes, “It”. Snakey, snakey, not so shakey. Rattlesnake number 1 (snake #12 of 2017), laying in a snakey puddle in the trail. I did my usual instant halt and back up a few steps, plus a little gaspy screamy thing, a good three feet shy of a dirt-brown rattlesnake. Usually when I’m this close they get pissy and rattle. This guy just laid there, tongue flicking. I weighed my options, jump over or go around. Everything in me panics at the thought of jumping over. Apparently the rattlesnake I don’t know (in the bushes) is better than the one I do. This is my logic, just go with it. Around it is. I made my way through a prickly pear mess, glanced back and the little pile of death in the trail, and ran on.

Thoughts that were running through my head rambled into each other:

              “Well, I’m glad that’s out of the way. I’ve seen my rattlesnake of the run, that should be it. Obviously there COULD be another snake on the trail, but that’s unlikely. You really never see the snakes, so one it is. Here’s my intersection, I’m excited to run this direction, it’s been awhile. Oo, this is a fun little hill. I can run this. I wish I’d brought my phone to take a picture of…. OH MY GOD!!!!”

I had placed my foot within tooth-tickling (as in his tooths tickling my ankle) distance of rattlesnake number 2 of the run, snake #13 of 2017. My panicked dance away from it brought me a few feet up a hill. I peeked back at this dark brown pancake with fangs. It was just laying there too, flicky-tongue, and that was it. It should have been pissed off, but it wasn’t. I worked on calming down as I now walked up the trail and thanked God over and over again for somehow keeping me from getting bitten.

My nerves were a little on edge, but two rattlesnakes in one run? Obviously I was done now. No way I’d see another one. Even so, I was super on edge. I’d come to a pretty solid rocky hill and was walking. I was thinking that both of the locations of the snakes I’d seen were not too far from washes, so that made sense. I was now on a hill, completely different terrain, plus I’d already met my snake quota for the day, obviously I wouldn’t see…. You’ve got to be fucking kidding me. Guess what I saw? Did you guess a rattlesnake? If you did, you would be correct. Rattler #3 of the run, and snake #14 for 2017. Another dirt-brown dude, again, all puddley. I eyed a way around and moved on.

I’m not sure what my thoughts consisted of at this point. Surely I was done with the snakes? I walked quite a bit, enjoying old memories of the trail and noticing how different it was in some places compared to the last time I was out. I came across one of many of the currently flowing (usually bone dry) streams and decided it was a good time to refill my water. I seriously love my Sawyer Mini. This was a pretty nicely flowing stream, but even so it can house Giardia or other swimmy-swammy things I don’t want in my guts. But with my Sawyer, even a stagnant cow-shithole puddle becomes delicious, precious water, say thank-ya.

Other things of note on my way out were circumnavigating a giant downed jumping cholla, (seriously, no going over that thing) and kitty tracks. I stared at the latter for quite a while thinking it was most likely they were dog. But they had been left in mud and were super clear, with not a hint of no claw marks, at all. Plus, they had that distinctive double-lobed heel pad, dogs are singular. There were also bobcat tracks right there too. These were super tiny and cute in comparison to the lion tracks which were about the size of my fist.

I ran out to 8.5 miles and decided to call it. I was having a great time now and there was plenty of water, but I had been so slow on the way out and the day was waxing on. Time to go.

As I turned around, all I could think of was the snakes on the way back. I don’t know how many times I’ve come across hikers warning me of a snake on the trail, just ahead, or around the corner, or whatever distance implying that it’s super close. It’s never there. EVER. It has always moved on. Nevertheless, because none of these snakes had batted a rattle at me on the way out, I thought it was possible they might still be there. The temperature on the way out was about 80° and now it was about 86°, so I figured it was likely they’d moved, but maybe not.

I stopped at the same creek and refilled my water again. I was drinking a significant amount of water, so I was very thankful for the creeks. The day was still overcast and felt cool, but without water I would have been in trouble.

As I was thinking this and running up a little blip, I screeched at snake #4 (2017 #15) however this was a garter snake, thankfully. It was a really pretty glossy black with yellowish stripes, but I wasn’t in a mood to care about how pretty it was at that moment. It slithered off very quickly, which I took as a reassuring sign that I wouldn’t see my rattlers on the way back out. If the garter snakes are moving fast, rattlers should be moving off too.

Before the big descent towards Peralta Canyon Trail, I took a quick little side trail and saw a bunch of sphinx moth caterpillars (interestingly, in the entire 17 miles, I only saw them on this little side jaunt). I also found an incredible camping spot (nudge-nudge Lucy’s runner).

I was on high alert as I began my descent, watching for the spot where I’d seen the snake. I came to the spot where I was pretty sure it had been and it was nowhere to be seen! Hallelujah! Sweet! Time to move! I began to run and about 15 feet later and just about stepped on the mother. I’d misjudged the location and the damn snake hadn’t budged an inch. Heart in my throat, again thanking God for the lack of two new holes in my ankle, walked down the hill, eyeing everything closely.

There were two hikers on the trail who scared the crap out of me when they said hello. I’d been watching for snakes so hard I hadn’t seen them until I was about on top of them. I told them about the snake up around the corner, that it was there that morning and still there now. They had their dog with them and thanked me. I assumed they’d come in from First Water Trailhead, but they’d actually come in from Peralta Trailhead, which I didn’t figure out until a few minutes later.

Leaving the hikers after learning they hadn’t seen any snakes, I started running fairly quickly. They’d just been through here, right? They hadn’t seen any snakes. I was maybe 5 minutes out from them and almost stepped on yet another rattlesnake (snake #5, rattler #4, 2017 #16). On the other side of it I turned around and yelled at it, “You weren’t here this morning! Argh!” This one was a light grey. Again, just a snakey puddle of venomous death, with not a care in its glistening eyes.

I was a mess. I wanted to start crying (I didn’t). I felt like I was running a gauntlet. I have this weird fear of small animals biting my ankles (shut up, I’m working on it), it’s SO MUCH WORSE when that animal is also venomous and can kill you.

Still reeling from this close encounter, I walked, slowly, looking closely at the trail and every step. Within half a mile of Mr. Grey Snake a bush off the side of the trail made the distinctive whirring sound, letting me know there was a rattlesnake sitting under its cover. I looked in the bush as I passed by, saw the completely pissed off snake (snake #6, rattler #5, 2017 #17), which I was in no danger of stepping on or harming in any way, and kept going. Damn gauntlet. Is PTSD from close encounters with snakes a thing?

Somewhere through here I saw a Coachwhip snake (snake #7, 2017 #18). These guys are super cool, they are crazy fast, and while most snakes follow the contours of the ground they’re crossing, this guy was like a bullet, shooting across rocks and gaps in a straight line. However, I, of course, was not pleased to see yet another snake.

The big dark brown snake was gone as I came back through. I ran some on the wider trails, but I was such a nervous mess I wasn’t running much. I wanted to be home and unbitten. I wanted the run to be done.

I hiked until I passed the location of the first snake I’d seen that day (also gone), then I started running more. I was exhausted. I’d come within inches of three different rattle snakes, and the fear had wiped me out. I did my best to keep running, keeping my eyes peeled for more snakes, but I hadn’t seen any through this early section on the way out, and I didn’t see any now either. Still, every variegated roundish object would catch my eye until my conscious mind calmed my instinctual mind down.

I finished my run and I don’t think I’ve ever been so grateful to finish a run, not even an ultra when my body is not really working anymore and all I want to do is cry and sleep.

Looking back at this run, I assume the recent rains and cooler night temperatures are why the snakes were out on the trail. I don’t know this, but it seems logical to me that they might be out trying to gather as much heat from the exposed trail as they can. I have run thousands of miles through the desert and have never seen or heard of anything like this. I would not have thought it possible. Five rattlesnakes in one run? No. This is more than I’ve seen all summer (I think my rattlesnake sightings for the year before today were 3?) I feel like God must have been watching over me. It makes NO sense to me that I would nearly step on so many rattlers and none of them moved at all. When it’s cold out this makes sense, but like I said, it was about 80°.  Every snake on the trail just laid there. The only one that acted normal was the one in the bush, which I was nowhere near.

So that was my adventure today. I foresee bad dreams a-risin’. All of this therapy writing aside, I have yet to regret an adventure, this one included. This adventure scared the living shit out of me, and yet, it was so incredible and I’m so thankful I was able to do it and come away unscathed (physically at least???). Life, it’s beautiful. Live it.

 

 

 

 

Smelly Armchair Musings: I will try

“Child, finish what you started.”

I often speak to myself in this manner when I’m in a low spot while running. For some reason, it makes me feel a little better to encourage or nudge myself as if I’m a child: the adult in me is comforting the child in me. I’m pretty sure I don’t have spilt personality, but maybe….

Three years ago I started something big. After having run a few 50K’s, I decided it was time to run a bigger ultra: I signed up for the Javelina Jundred K. At the time, this race consisted of four washing machine loops on Pemberton Trail in McDowell Mountain Regional Park. I was cocky. I’d run this trail numerous times. It is a pretty clean trail, very few rocks, very little elevation change, wide as a highway. It really is a great location for a first ultra-distance. My first 50K and 50 miler were both there (the 50 miler took place after the event being described here). So, as any runner is wont to do, I began training and I trained through the summer. My training, however, was inappropriate for what I was tackling. In my cockiness, I didn’t recognize it at the time. I did the typical back-to-back long runs on the weekends, but they weren’t long enough. My overall weekly mileage was too low. I didn’t cross train to make up for this. The trails I trained on were inappropriate for the terrain I would be covering on race day. Race morning dawned, I took fun pictures with my friends before the start and then we started. I had one good loop, two terrible loops, and I quit.

“But”, I’ve said to myself, “your IT band was in BAD shape. You were limping and walking that entire third loop. You couldn’t have done another loop!” Really? I really couldn’t do another loop? I had all night long and part of the next day still for crying out loud! “It would have been unwise to continue.” Maybe, unlikely, but maybe. Now, three years later, it’s too late and I will never know for sure.

This is the one that got away. This was my first DNF. I was blogging at the time, but I didn’t blog about this. I was ashamed. Ashamed of what? Everyone DNF’s at some point, who cares? I cared. I didn’t finish what I’d set out to do. I went into it all arrogant and presumptuous. “Oh whatever, it’s just Pemberton, no big deal.” I was ashamed of my failure. Ashamed that I’d been so cocksure and failed. Ashamed that I didn’t finish.

Well, that race taught me everything. First and foremost, never, ever, EVER quit. The runner’s adage, “If the bone ain’t showin’, keep on goin’.” is a true statement, but I didn’t realize it until I did quit. I stopped because I didn’t want to go on. It was dark, my knee hurt, my pride was hurt, I was tired, I was emotional, I quit. This failure at JJK has driven me at races and difficult runs since. Now, I will make them pull me from the course, I will not quit.

“Child, finish what you started.”

When deciding what my running goals for 2017 would be, I decided I wanted, no, NEEDED to finish what I’d started. At the beginning of the year, I had attempted 3 distances that were 50+ miles. I’d DNF’d two out of three, and that was shitty. Failure hung over me. Nobody else cared about this, but I did. Was I actually capable? Could I do this? I didn’t see the point in signing up for other, new 50 mile or 100K distances if I couldn’t even finish the ones I’d already tried. I would try to finish what I’d started.

This lead me to put my name in for Zane Grey again, when I’d already decided I wouldn’t run that again anytime soon. I got in, and by the toenails on my feet I finished it. FINISHED IT! YES! It wasn’t pretty. In fact, it was ridiculously horrible (my pacer Amy told me recently that she was starting to get a little concerned towards the end when I began sort of singing quietly, all mumbly under my breath), but that’s ok, I made it! Okay, one goal down. Now on to the evil angel who haunts my dreams, Javelina Jundred K.

After a full month’s rest from Zane, I began training for JJK this week. I will be seeing a lot of Pemberton and the canal. Two places which rate fairly low (REALLY low) on my scale of desirable places to run (Where is the climbing? The technicality? I need mountains! Adventure!). The bright side though? They are not road, and they are fast. I’m hoping this translates into more time at home with my family, even though I’ll be running a ton, since I won’t need to be driving very far, and I can run a whole lot faster at either of those places than on any of my favorite trails. For instance, for my first long training run that took place this weekend, I did “Loop 2” of the race course, somewhere around 19 miles, in 3.5 hours (and it was hot, and I ran out of water, just sayin’). Nothing to write home about, but this same distance in the mountains would have taken me probably at least 5 hours, plus extra drive time. I got home in plenty of time to brag on Strava, shower, and go see Wonder Woman (I LOVE EVERYTHING ABOUT THIS MOVIE! I will be watching it at least 10 more times, probably way more! Strong, beautiful women, RAR!) with my family.

I will still be hopping up to the mountains. They hold my heart. I cannot stay away. But a significant portion of my time, and likely any blogs I get around to writing, will center around my “adventures” at Pemberton, or on the canal. It’s not the location that makes the adventure, it’s the person!

“Child, finish what you started.”

I will try: October 28, 2017

 

 

 

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.

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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.