Tag Archives: Black Canyon

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?

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Aravaipa Black Canyon Training Run #1

It was a cold and windy morning in Mayer, Arizona. A group of around 30 of us stood outside of the Mayer High School track, waiting for the brief instructions of our adventure trail for the morning. We were running a point to point course, essentially from where we were standing back to our cars which were parked about 20 miles away. Jamil (RD of Aravaipa Running) reminded us that we would be running on a minimally marked trail, and that we were to be, for the most part, self-supported. We shivered and shook in our minimal running gear, wishing for more clothes, but knowing that as soon as we started running we would be plenty warm enough. Amid the gusts of icy air, we set off down the road through Mayer.

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We ran for perhaps two miles through the town, our pace moving along at a fast clip. It was too fast for me, but I knew that eventually we’d all string out and settle into our own paces. For this run, I was there with my friends Adam and Matt, and we were planning on sticking together.

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Once we got out of town we ran on dirt roads for a bit. Then finally turned onto desert single track. The scenery here was different from what I’m used to running in; it was open and grassy, with occasional shrubs to break up the smooth, golden high desert plain. I began to settle in, somewhere in the middle of the pack, enjoying the tightness of the track that allowed the grasses to brush my calves.

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Flying down a hill, I missed a turn in the trail, but was able to reorient right away. The main group out ahead of me had also missed this turn. Seeing that the turn was actually well marked with giant cairns and a sign, the main group went on. I waited for Matt and Adam, and once I saw Matt, I started off again. We’d gone maybe a quarter mile up the trail when I became worried; Adam wasn’t with us, and he should have caught us by then. After waiting for a few minutes and still no Adam, we turned around back down the trail. We came to the weird split off, and there was no sign of Adam, so we knew he’d gone off course. We yelled, and some other people responded! They headed towards our voices.  Adam wasn’t among them. One of the runners who came to our voices said there were others out ahead of them, and that he’d go run and catch them. He turned around and headed back out into the desert. Matt and I hung out until our friends came back.

Trail Shenanigans While Waiting:

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Finally, Adam came into sight, and we started off together again, that is, until we came to some sweet downhill and I took off. Over the next mile and a half I barely grazed the trail; I was having so much fun! I’m pretty sure I laughed out loud a few times, and had a huge grin on my face the whole way. When I came up on a windmill I stopped to investigate.

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At a couple of points along the trail, Sabrina was waiting for us with water and snacks. The aid station she had on the plateau was struggling to stay on the ground because of the huge gusts of wind. She was all bundled up against the cold!

This trail was a mixture of jeep roads and seriously tight single track. And, it was almost all entirely downhill. This was my fastest 20 mile run ever! It was sub 4 hours, and that was including our worry time for our friend! I am excited to go back out here and run this again and see how fast I can do it.

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Back at our cars, in true ultra-runner fashion, the group was hanging out, drinking a beer and sharing their experiences of the trail. I am usually unable to stay at these after gatherings for very long, but they are the essence of the trail running community. Trail running is of course about the trails, the mountains, and the scenery. How much vert (vertical) is there? Is it single track or not? But in the end, it’s really about the community. We share our stories, showing our new blood and dirt tans, describing how we felt climbing the hills or running the downs. We get to know each other, and meet some of the best people on the planet.

This run was actually the first training run of three for the Black Canyon Ultras. I ran the latter two training sections last year (here’s Number 1 and here’s Number 2), but I am excited to hit them again this year. And, of course, I can’t wait to get out there for the race!

Here’s a VIDEO of our run that Jamil made!

Black Canyon Number Three (Number Two for Me)

I know it has been a little while since I’ve posted an adventure. Truth be told, I haven’t been on any new adventures in quite a while; holiday busyness I suppose, though I can’t say what I did over the holidays that kept me so busy. Whatever. I know I had a good break and now… on to more wilderness!

As I’m sure you can guess, I’d been looking forward to the third and final Black Canyon 100K training run for quite a while. In the week leading up to the run, I actually attempted to do some PLANNING! Amazing, right? If you happen to remember my post on the second Black Canyon Training Run, I was late, and I desperately hate late. Since I knew that this time my friend Becky would be unavailable for a mad dash down the freeway, I needed to ensure I knew where I was going and was on time. I found my directions, printed out a map of the trails for the day, loaded my hydration pack with water and a few snacks, and was set! I also checked and double checked that my alarm was set correctly and was on loud enough to wake me up.  Fingers crossed, I was ready to go.

4:30am rolled around far too quickly for me on January 19th, but, roll around it did and I was out of bed, grouchy, and ready to go. After a quick stop at Starbucks for breakfast, a latte, and my friend Matt, I was on the road heading to my run. Guess what? I arrived a few minutes early! Yay for me!

The group for this run was much smaller than the last one. We all piled into a couple of cars (which is how I met a couple cool of new people, Brett and Thomas) and drove to the start of the run (we’d met up at the finish). Jamil handed out a few extra maps, and reviewed a few spots on the trail, as usual reminding us of his markers to look for. Then we ran.

At the Start

At the Start

Let me just say, I love Black Canyon. The scenery here is stunning and single track running just never gets old. For this day, our first few miles were fast. We ran down to and crossed a creek (Real running water again! Yay!) by way of a log and a few rocks, and then we started climbing. The climbing was not particularly steep or difficult, it just kept going. And going. And going. With each switchback I thought for sure I was at the top. Nope. Eventually I just assumed there actually was no top and the entire run was uphill. So while reminding myself that, “I LOVE the hills!”, I just kept moving. Thankfully, there was a top with great views out over the canyon I’d just climbed.

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Crossing the Creek

Crossing the Creek

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Down again. Up again. Down again. At about mile 11 I hit a wall (In case you are not a runner, hitting “the wall” is when you feel a general sense of blech. You feel tired, your legs are heavy, nothing is moving like you want it to.) I’m not sure what the deal is with a wall at 11 miles, but it blows, and it’s not the first time I’ve hit a wall there. It was great that Matt was there to complain along with me! Complaining loves company. I was very glad for Sabrina who was manning the aid station for us at this point. It felt great to eat some salty potato chips and take a quick break. Plus, I’ve been following Sabrina’s blog since the summer, so it was wonderful to finally get to meet this amazing woman!

Feeling, well, not exactly refreshed but that it was time to get moving, I took off again. Actually, “took off” implies I was moving quickly. I wasn’t. I was walking. Just outside of the aid station as I began to feel like perhaps I could run again, I ran into some cattle. That was my first encounter with them on trails! They are very skittish around people and run away as you run towards them. On I plugged, alternating running the flats and downs, and walking the ups.

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Crossing the Grate

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At mile 17 my wall graciously lifted and I felt golden! With just 7.5 miles left, I was ready to fly through this! I stopped long enough to point out a bone lying on the side of the trail to Matt, who took this picture (and all of the other pictures in this post by the way), and enjoy the Hall of Saguaro’s.

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Bone

Hall of Saguaro's

Hall of Saguaro’s

By the time I was finishing up, the day had really warmed up. I started out with arm sleeves, gloves, and a hoodie. By the time I finished I’d stripped off all of those and was down to my tank top (Well, and shorts of course, silly.) Somewhere in those last few, heated miles I developed a side cramp and had to slow down to work that out. But eventually I was able to see the roofs of the toilet housings. I picked up my pace to the finish and was greeted by food, water, and the smiling faces of the other runners who had completed this trek. I love runners. As at the last training run, I sat around for a bit and rested, while enjoying the company of these people.

Thank you, Jamil Coury, for planning this great run and Aravaipa Running for the aid station supplies! I can’t wait to see everyone again at the inaugural Black Canyon 100K!

And... Done! With, what is that? Dirt? Salt? On my face. Indicative a good run!

24 1/2 miles… Done! With, what is that? Dirt? Salt? On my face. Indicative a good run!

I suppose I should mention that on the way home we stopped at Chipotle for a giant pile of food. I am reluctant to share this because, (insert sigh here), I love cilantro. Apparently my teeth also love cilantro. I have one specific spot that has this knack for catching small green pieces of food (i.e., cilantro) and displaying it for the world to see. My kind friend Matt was nice enough to point it out to me, and then couldn’t stop laughing at me. The real kicker occurred about an hour after I’d gotten my teeth all cleaned out. From somewhere my teeth procured cilantro- AGAIN! I have decided cilantro is the delicious bane of my existence, and next time, I might just purposely shove it into my teeth and wear it proudly. Yes world! I love to run and then eat cilantro!

Black Canyon

New trails rock. If there’s a new trail, I want to experience it, so when I learned that Jamil Coury, the race director of the local Aravaipa Running was asking for runners to come out and do some test runs for the inaugural Black Canyon 100K, I said, “Absolutely!” The 100K course was broken up into three segments, to be run in three different training runs. Unfortunately, I had to miss the first training run, but I was super excited to go to the second. As you will see, I almost missed that one, too. Now to begin, I will start in as good a place as any, at the beginning.

The evening of November 30th, 2013, I was very excited and busied myself ensuring I was ready to jet out the door the next morning at 5:00 am. I was meeting my friends to head up to Black Canyon, Arizona for our 18 mile training run on some new trails. My Nathan hydration pack was filled with water and some snacks, my clothes were laid out, and my alarm was set. I fell asleep thinking about what the morning would bring.

Some hours later, I woke up feeling refreshed, (which to anyone who knows me AT ALL, is a terrible sign that something is horribly wrong- I never wake up refreshed), and wondering how much longer until my alarm went off. I turned my clock around and saw the time was… 5:30 am. I’m sure some choice words flew out of my mouth, though I don’t remember  what they were, (my husband could probably enlighten you, if you really need to know), and I ran downstairs as fast I could to call my friend Becky, who was driving. She and my other friend Matt had just barely left and they agreed to turn around to come and get me. I ran back upstairs, pulled on the pre-laid out clothes, grabbed my pack, ran out the door, and met them out on the road. I was so thankful they came back for me, (I’d really been looking forward to this run), but felt absolutely horrible for making us late. I don’t do late. Ever. To top it off, I enjoyed some time around a campfire the night before and hadn’t gotten around to showering the smell out of my hair, so, I had smoke-stink working in my favor too. The day was off to… well… some kind of start. Becky and Matt were both very gracious about my tardiness and didn’t give me too hard of a time about my smoke-stink. Thanks guys.

After picking up another friend of ours, Dawn, we raced up the freeway towards Black Canyon, and got to the meet-up point just in time. They may even have been waiting for us. I don’t know and really didn’t want to ask if I made them late too. The meet-up was actually where the finish of the days’ run would be, so we left our cars there and carpooled north to where we were to begin. Upon stepping out of the car, I was met with open, beautiful desert with hills all around us. If you have ever spent much time in the Valley of the Sun, you know that around town there aren’t any hills, so hills are a treasure.

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We waited for a few minutes for everyone to get situated: packs on and adjusted, shoes on and tied, bushes thoroughly peed on- you know, typical runner stuff. Jamil gave us a quick rundown: he would be out in front marking the trail with specific ribbons we needed to watch out for. Someone needed to play sweeper and ensure no one was left on the trail and that all the ribbons were taken down. Then, with no further fanfare, we started running.

Jamil Giving Us Instructions

Jamil Giving Us Instructions

The beginning of any run, especially on new terrain with new people, is all about settling into a good rhythm. There are always the front runners- those who take off like a shot from the start and are never seen again, (I am not one of those), and there are the rest of us, in a clump. Thankfully the clumps never last long and people quickly begin to string out as they settle into their pace with who they will be running with or near for the duration of the run. Once we thinned out, I was able to enjoy what I was seeing.

Clump

Clump

For quite a bit of the run, we were along the side of hill, looking out over a narrow valley with more hills on the other side. No houses, no signs of the civilization we were so close to, just clean desert. Peaceful. Restive. I stopped frequently to soak it all in.

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What Jamil neglected to tell us about this section of trail is that there were not one, but TWO river crossings in our course that day! Like with the hills I mentioned earlier, you would need to be familiar with the area to fully appreciate this, but I rarely see running water. In fact, I get insanely excited over a stagnant pool of water left over from a storm four weeks prior. These were not stagnant pools. These were fully functional rivers, with trees! Yes! Trees! Real, big trees! When I first caught a glimpse of the first river I was still up on the hill, so I had to stop and just look at the water for a while.  When I began moving again and realized that we were heading downhill towards the river I just couldn’t believe it! While this river may only be a crick to most people, it was absolutely a river for here in the desert, and I loved it. There was no bridge to cross on, but there were some rocks which were sufficient for hopping across. It would be interesting to see this area during monsoon season!

First Views

First Views

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On the way to the second river crossing (keep in mind at this point I didn’t know there was a second river crossing), I was feeling tired, so I was just walking. Suddenly, this amazing vista opened before me. The trail cut steep and straight down between two hills and way off in the distance Black Canyon City could be seen, nestled in among the hills. Now, picture me, standing at the top of a steep, downhill trail. What happens next? If you guessed extreme speed, you guessed correctly. Even though it was downhill, I was running so fast my lungs and heart were barely keeping up. It was glorious.

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The second river crossing was , if possible, even more exciting than the first. The area itself was calm, reminding me of a summer watering hole. I half expected to see a tire swing strung up over the water somewhere! After descending to the river, the trail appeared to simply end among some reeds. Thankfully, Jamil has mad trail-marking skills, so I was able to follow the ribbons in between the reeds and across a few hillocks in the river. This crossing had a few small stones in the river that I was able to hop across, but no clear crossing like the last one. Thankfully, I didn’t fall in!

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Somewhere on this run, I don’t remember if it was before or after the second river crossing, I made a very sudden stop because I spotted a tarantula. Matt took this shot of it. When he tried to get closer, it raised its bulbous abdomen at him and crawled away.

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The rest of the trail was just as amazing as the beginning. A couple of places had some jeep trails to follow, but mostly we stayed on the single track. At one point, we climbed up switchbacks to the top of a hill and had a great view on a couple of sides of the river winding its way through the valley below us. By this time I was tired and ready to be done. Thankfully we were within a mile or two of our finishing spot.

For once, I thought ahead and brought dry clothes to change into afterwards. After every run, it doesn’t matter much what the temperature is, I freeze. My lips and finger tips turn purple (I look like a zombie), and I usually start shaking and can’t get warm. The dry clothes made all the difference. While I did turn purple, I didn’t feel bad like usual, and actually felt relatively comfortable. I warmed up very quickly. I did, however, still smell like campfire smoke, and now sweat-stink could be added to that. Excellent.

We hung around for a bit talking to Jamil and some of the other runners. It was wonderful. We discussed upcoming races and running ultras (an ultra is any distance longer than a marathon, which is 26.2 miles). The atmosphere was calm, relaxed, and laid back. It was a perfect wrap-up to a perfect run.

If someone were to ask me to sum up, in one word, what the best thing about running the Black Canyon trail is, I would say that the best thing is that it’s tight. Yes, for all you non-runners out there, I said tight. As further description I would say, “tight, single track”. I run many trails, all kinds of trails, from wide open service roads, to sandy washes, to rocky ankle twisters, to smooth and clear swaths cutting through the desert. NOTHING compares to a tight, single track trail. A trail such as this is a footpath, nothing more. Bikers certainly can, and do, ride these, but the trail is exceedingly narrow, just wide enough for you to place one foot in front of the other. The desert is unrelentingly right up against your ankles, and yet this particular trail, for all of its tightness, is clear and entirely runnable. This aspect of the trail is what struck me the most and is a huge part of what makes this such an amazing run.

The final part of any long run is food. Always. Becky, Dawn, Matt, and I stopped at Whole Foods grocery store for lunch. That sounds odd, right? I thought so too the first time Becky suggested it, but they have this huge buffet of GOOD food. The food does not have the usual buffet-style, mass-produced flavor. It’s actually delicious, and so, I ate a lot and felt great.

Becky drove us back home and, as usual, we all had great laughs and discussions. The memories of these runs with my friends are so precious and I am so incredibly thankful for each and every one of them. These runners have each taught me so much. For a long time now, I have felt something that my husband put into some perfect, simple words. “In our modern American culture, we don’t need each other anymore.” I find this to be true in my life. We each work and have our little friendships, but I have found that, in general, we have forgotten how to need each other, and in doing so, have forgotten that others need us. I don’t know if anyone other than me has felt this way, but it is a lonely and empty place to be. Amazing friends gift my precious long runs to me. They are strong people, they are beautiful people with deep stories to tell, and I have learned so much from simply running beside them for hours on end. I am a better person because these people choose to be a part of my life. So thank you, you know who you are, for the life you give me on our long runs.