Tag Archives: Life

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.

 

 

 

 

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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

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 the Beauty of Being Yourself

“Just follow her feet. Just follow her feet. Just follow her feet. Oh god, where is the aid station?”

On this day, February 9, 2013, I ran with my friend Dawn at my first ultra, the Pemberton 50K. I’d wanted to “be an ultra-runner” for a while, and on that day I’d set out to try to earn that badge. I was a newb.

Dawn; she is amazing. She’s run numerous races, ultra and not, all over the place. She is kind and always has a smile and a word of encouragement for everyone. She loves her family, loves her friends, and loves the trails. This woman exudes calm, acceptance, generosity, kindness, humbleness, and grace. She taught me so much about myself, and all while simply being herself. She probably has no idea of the impact she has had on my life (well, perhaps until now).

Up until the Pemberton 50K, Dawn and I had been on group runs together. Just talking, chatting about whatever. We were friends and I enjoyed her company.

So we ran the Pemberton 50K. This race consists of two loops of Pemberton Trail at McDowell Mountain Regional Park. It’s a good first ultra because it has minimal elevation gain and is relatively smooth running.

For the first loop, being the newb that I was, I ran too fast, I know that now. But at the time, I felt great, the pace felt fun, I was having a good time. Dawn was behind me a little bit. We came into the Start/Finish line aid station and Dawn, being much wiser than me, took a moment to stop and eat. I kept going.

As soon as I started on the second loop I knew I was in trouble. The flat course no longer felt flat. I couldn’t run. Everything hurt and my legs wouldn’t move. Dawn caught up to me while I was walking, and she was still running strong. I don’t remember now all of the words that were exchanged- I remember seriously hating life and hating the “hill”. She was kind and cheerful, as always, but not in an annoying cheerleader way, she was just herself. I ended up following her feet; she pulled me in this manner for miles (5? 6? 7? I don’t remember now.). All I remember of this time is her solid feet, consistently covering trail, and my struggle to keep watching them and not stop. It hurt. Eventually we came to a remote aid station and I just couldn’t run anymore. I told her to go ahead. I still had a bunch of miles (5? 6? Again, I don’t remember) to go to reach the finish line, and I needed to walk for a while.

So I walked. And felt sorry for myself for walking. One person passed me. Then another. I was still walking. Eventually enough people passed me that I decided that was enough of that, I was going to run again. So I did. It was a shuffle, really. Every little bump in the trail felt like I was climbing a giant mountain. My legs wouldn’t lift, but at least I wasn’t walking anymore.

Eventually I made it and I crossed the finish line of my first ultra. And Dawn was there and she congratulated me. I felt awful. I was cold. I remember leaving there and going to Starbucks to get a huge hot chocolate to drink- I was dehydrated, and hadn’t eaten well, and was a mess.

And that’s my experience of my first ultra, but this is about so much more than that. Every time I run any race, at some point the going gets hard and ALWAYS Dawn’s voice is there: “Just keep moving. One foot in front of the other finishes.” On my “Adventure Runs” (My friend Miguel calls these Amber Adventures) that I pursue in the desert, again, Dawn is always with me. This beautiful woman gave me so much more than she will ever know. These words don’t describe the impact she has had on me. I look up to her.

So why write this? Trail running is about community. We need each other, or at least, I do. Dawn never knew the impact she had on my life, she was just herself and she helped me to become the person I am today because of it. Perhaps this is a reminder to me. I don’t know, and will never know, my impact on the lives of those around me. How does my mere presence affect them? What about my words? My actions? I don’t know. But I love my community- I will choose to be there for them, to pour into them, as I have been poured into, because this is who I am. Perhaps there is someone out there who will always hear my voice on their runs, just as I always hear Dawn’s. Perhaps not. It doesn’t matter. What matters is my choice to love those around me while I am here simply because I can.

Thank you Dawn.

Aravaipa McDowell Mountain Frenzy 50 Mile Race Report: On Running Far, Perseverance, Breaking Down, and Accidentally Accomplishing a Long-Held Desire

What does it mean when you eat a good pizza dinner at 7:00pm, a second dinner at 10:00pm, and then are woken up by your body screaming for food at 1:30am and again at 6:30am? For me it means that I finished my first 50 mile race!

Morning came too early Saturday and I was a bundle of nerves. As per my habit for this Fall’s  Desert Runner Trail Series I had not effectively trained. While I had managed to complete the first two races of the series (Cave Creek Thriller 50K and Pass Mountain 50K) they were not 50 miles, and I had never run 50 miles before. The closest I’d come to 50 miles was my R3 Canyon crossing back in May for which I’d trained. So… nerves. Could I finish? What if my side cramped up? What if I got nauseous? What if my muscles refused? What if, what if, what if?

I had prepared my pack the night before. I know many experienced ultra-runners don’t carry a pack, preferring to stay light with a water bottle or two. From my experience at the Canyon though, I decided I wanted to have my pack with a few staple items in it so I knew I’d have the nutrition I wanted. The biggest thing I learned at the Canyon was “Eat early and eat often” which I planned to do for the race. This way, the aid station goodies would be a bonus! I also had my electrolytes which I seem to do well with when I take one/ hour. I also decided to forgo the drop bags- I couldn’t think of anything I’d really need that would be worth slowing down for.

I arrived at the race about 25 minutes before the start. I knew the day would get warm so even though it was probably in the 40’s, I was wearing shorts and a tank and arm sleeves. I stood by the fire and shivered until it was time to go. 44 of us toed the start line, full of hopes, worries, excitement, and expectations for the day ahead of us. Only 33 of us would finish.

When the horn went off, I did my best to keep my pace down. This is so difficult at the beginning of a race, but I knew if I had any desire to finish, I had to keep it slow. You may remember Karen, the woman who was out for a training run during the Cave Creek 50K, and who I ran with for quite a while there? Well, she was out at the Frenzy, running her first 50 mile too! She asked me what my strategy was for the day, if I had one. My answer, “Just don’t go too fast.” She laughed and said she didn’t think that’d be a problem for her. (Ultra Sign-Up had also predicted that my finish time would be 12:20 and I wanted to beat that at least, if not finish in 12 hours.) This beginning part of the trail, though, is nice and easy rolling. It’s difficult to keep the pace down, as I discovered last year when I ran the Frenzy 50K. We, along with at least one other woman who was also running her first 50 mile, ran together until we hit the first aid station (around 7 miles in, only 43 left!), Escondido Aid. I grabbed a cup of coke (mmm… coke), a bite to eat, and moved out. I would see them all again on Thompson Peak- more on that later.

Rolling up Pemberton Trail from Escondido I just ran easy. This section of trail is wide open, smooth, and gently uphill. I’ve run it many times, so I knew what to expect for next 5 miles to aid station number two, Granite Tank Aid. Coming down into the aid station (12 miles down, only 38 to go!), my friend Jon greeted me and took my picture. I dumped some sand out of my shoes, grabbed a cup of coke, and walked out.

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Coming into Granite Tank Aid. Photo Credit: Jon Christley

The next 6.5 miles consisted of a loop, which would come back to Granite Tank Aid, in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve on trails which I’d never run before. They headed out way north, near some cool boulder formations. The trails were mostly narrow, which I love. I began this little side loop with walking and eating because as I’d been running up Pemberton I’d felt some hunger setting in already. Note to self: do not wait to eat once you feel hungry when running. I’d waited too long to eat, and struggled with the evil Bonk for the next couple of miles until what I’d eaten made its way into my bloodstream. Then I was better and took off again.

I ran back into Granite Tank Aid (about 18 miles down, only 32 left- just a 50K!) and filled my pack with water for the first time. The next 10.5 miles to Dixie Mine Aid would be long and the day was warming up. I’d stripped off my arm sleeves and Jon sprayed me with sunscreen. I was so thankful for this. I’d put on a little bit of sunscreen in the morning before leaving home, but I’d known then it wouldn’t be enough. I downed some more coke and belched in a most trail-lady-like fashion, and headed out.

The beginning of this section again heads out onto trails in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve. These were trails I’d run the year before during the 50K and I loved them just as much this time around as I did then; narrow, winding between boulders, fun! I ran easily along, enjoying the views of Tom’s Thumb and the McDowell’s. Eventually I came down out of the Preserve and back onto Pemberton Trail. Again, I know this trail well and chugged along. By now I was passing by 50K runners. It was nice to see these other people out on the trail. I passed by one girl who was running strong. She asked how my day was going. I answered, “Great!” and she replied with, “Fuck yeah!” Awesome enthusiasm! It made me smile.

We turned off of Pemberton Trail onto Coachwhip Trail, beginning the ascent into the McDowell Mountains. The trail became a little more technical, and it was warm, so I slowed down some, speed-hiking the bigger hills. The views from here are some of my favorite in this area. Climbing up Bell Pass, if you look back behind you the desert is spread out below, with the mountains right next to you. It’s awe-inspiring. Upon cresting Bell Pass it’s a crazy fun, technical, switch-backing downhill until you hit the Thompson Peak road, which then continues downhill into Dixie Mine Aid.

Coming into Dixie Mine (About 29 miles done! Over half way! Only 21 miles left!), my friend Justin greeted me and refilled my pack while my friend Brett got me… can you guess what? Yup, coke. We chatted for a few minutes. Another friend, Bradley, was there resting for a bit during his 50K effort. My left IT band was feeling a little twingey, so I was concerned about that, especially considering that I now had to climb up Thompson Peak.

Thompson Peak. It’s hard. And it’s incredible. The climb up to the towers on top of the peak is about 2.3 miles, with, I think, about 1500 feet of gain. Most of that gain is in the last mile with grades sometimes reaching upwards of 49% (at least according to my Strava). I’ve climbed this mountain a few times before, which I was so thankful for. It would be disheartening to me to hit this climb this far into a race and not have been expecting it. I climbed and pushed and my heart pounded and my breathing raged and my calves burned with an angry fire. I stopped twice, I think, for a couple of seconds to slow my heart down, and then pushed on. I crested the mountain, made sure my bib number was recorded (to verify I’d climbed the whole thing) and ran back down.

On the way down, my IT band twinging turned into aching pain. I managed to find a weird hitching running motion that I could do and did that as much as I could down. One woman on her way up asked me if I had any electrolytes- her quads were cramping. I gave her two. On the last really steep section I came across Karen again and the other first time 50 mile woman- they were looking strong and were all smiles! I hitched into Dixie Mine Aid (50K down! Less than 17 miles to go!) again and refilled my pack. I drank yet more coke, ate more food, and headed out. At this point, the first sign of fatigue set in. I’d set my arm sleeves down at aid station, and left without them. Thankfully I realized this right away and was able to retrieve them.

I hiked the brief climb out of the aid station and then the trail followed a ridge before heading downhill and eventually winding back down to Pemberton. It was in this section that my state of mind become apparent to me. I’d been taking my electrolytes consistently every hour, but now I wasn’t sure if I’d taken the last one, or what time the last one was at. It was just over 5 miles of easy running to the Gate Aid Station, but my IT band was kind of angry. So I ran, then walked for a minute to calm it down, then ran again. I did this the whole way into the Gate Aid (About 39 miles down! Only about 11 to go!). I drank coke at Gate Aid and refilled my pack. The next aid station was only a 5K away, but it was the Start/Finish line. I knew I didn’t want to linger there since that’d make it hard to head back out for the final loop. So preemptively filling my pack was a protective measure against stopping my race early.

I left the Gate Aid, and thankfully the volunteer there saw my arm sleeves, which, yes, I’d set down and forgotten again. I would be coming back to this aid station, but I wanted to hold my sleeves because they were protection for my hands in the case that my increasingly tired feet tripped and I fell.

I covered that 5K as quickly as I could. The woman who’d needed the electrolytes had caught up to me by this point, and thankfully her quads had calmed down and not cramped up on the way down from the peak! We ran together off and on, and I was still able to run pretty well. I was tired, but I felt great.

There’s this last little hill that has to be crested before coming into the Start/Finish line. I power-hiked this, coming up with the most creative curse words I could. I still felt just fine, other than the twinging IT, but I was grouchy. I ran into the Start/Finish line and grabbed some food. My friends Erica, Laurie, Krista, and Matt were all there and greeted me. I grabbed more food, downed more coke, and grabbed some food to go. Matt walked me down the parking lot to where the trail took off out into the desert again. I’d covered 42 miles and I only had 8 left.

It was 2 miles back out to the Gate Aid station and it was easy running. But, my tiredness showed itself and I tripped and fell on a non-rock. Thankfully I’d had my arm sleeves and the damage was minimal. I grabbed coke and pickles at the aid station and moved out. As I was descending a small hill, Karen ran into the Gate Aid above me and yelled and waved!

6 miles left and it was still light out. I had a second wind and ran solidly for a mile and felt good. Then I started to feel a twinge in my left foot. So I hiked a little, but kept running. I was tired, but my muscles still felt strong. But. My. Foot. With about 3 miles left, I couldn’t run anymore, the pain in my foot was so bad. I was angry, so very angry. My muscles were still good! I could run, but for this tiny, horrible spot in my foot! It got dark and I hiked as hard as I could, and sometimes even that set my foot off. The pain made me start crying, then I’d tell myself to stop it, I had to get to the finish line. I’d get it under control and then start sobbing again, then get it under control again. This happened over and over. I could see the lights of the people behind me and I was so very slow. I just knew they were all going to pass me and there was nothing I could do about it.

By now I was hiking in blind faith. I was on a trail, but couldn’t remember the last time I’d seen an Aravaipa flag. I’d get worried I’d gone the wrong way and would start watching closely for a flag, would see one, but would then forget when I’d seen it after I passed it. I kept expecting to end up on a different trail, not realizing I’d be approaching the Finish line from the far end of the parking lot, and this concerned me when I wasn’t seeing what I expected to see. Finally I could hear the Finish line. Then I could see it, though it seemed so very far away. Then I was suddenly at the end of the parking lot and knew I hadn’t gone off trail. Somehow no one had passed me yet. I started unreservedly sobbing, so badly did I want to be done. I hobbled as fast as I could up the parking lot and across the finish line. Immediately I collapsed in a pile of tears on the other side. I’d done it. I’d run 50 miles. Remember my goal of finishing in 12 hours? I’d finished sub-12. I’d finished what I’d set out to do into the arms of my dear friends and family. When I’d come through the first time, Matt had texted my husband who was now there to greet me along with our kids. I was just crying and crying. And then… then someone told me I was third female.

Wait, what?

That couldn’t be right. I knew there were people ahead of me. I’ve never placed in an Aravaipa race. I’ve always wanted to, but I’m not fast enough. My friend Laurie who was doing the timing confirmed it, I’d gotten third female. Me. In my very first 50 mile race, I, of all people, had gotten third. So the sobbing commenced again.

Eventually I calmed down and stood up. I warmed up by the fire while my husband grabbed my change of clothes from my car and ordered my free pizza from Freak Brothers (for all 50K and 50 mile finishers). Then, for the first time, I had my picture taken with the other top finishing, incredible ultra-women.

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My bib, socks, and award

And you know the rest. I now sit here on my couch finishing this blog, still hungry. I am resting. My muscles feel great, my foot is still achy. What are my plans? I will rest for the month of December and allow my body to heal from this incredible effort it just accomplished. I will see how I feel and determine future training based on that.

I will close with this: our bodies are incredible, simply incredible. There are very few living creatures that can cover distances like we can (if you want to have a geek discussion on the physiology surrounding this with me sometime, please let me know!). We can cover incredible distances because we want to. Take a moment to think about that. We can. I can. You can. Many runners have heard, “What?!?! Why would you run that far?!? You must be crazy! I don’t even drive that far!” These things are said in varying forms in regards to all distances ranging from a 5K to a marathon, to 100 miles and more. Many of us have even laughed along with the people saying this, perhaps even joined in the joking self-deprecation. I know that I have. I don’t want to anymore. This ability is amazing and life-altering. It’s not crazy to push your body to see what it can do. It’s not crazy to head out into wild places and experience this dazzling world. It’s crazy not to. It’s crazy to be surrounded by astounding beauty and to purposely choose to never experience it. I will experience this world I’ve been given- who’s with me?

Aravaipa Pass Mountain 50K Race Report: Hooray for Pizza and Coke!

Le sigh. My life is a whirlwind of my own making. I keep telling myself the frantic pace will calm down eventually. I am about 95% sure this is true. Of course in addition to my already frenetic life, I must run far. It’s fun.

Pass Mountain 50K. Honestly I was in no better condition for it than for the Cave Creek 50K, but I went out to finish it. Why not? My longest training run this time consisted of pacing my dear friend Kathi to her 3rd place finish at the Javelina Jundred K– this was about 15.5 miles. While that’s better than my 10 mile long runs for Cave Creek, it’s not much better. Plus, my overall weekly mileage remained crazy low. I think I was doing pretty good if I got in 30 mile weeks. Argh.

The morning of the race dawned beautifully. It was chilly which was nice for a long effort- well, not nice exactly, I prefer warm, but I knew this would help me out. The Pass Mountain races are typically smaller than some of the other Desert Runner Trail (DRT) races, and generally the ultra-distances have much smaller starting crowds, so as my “crowd” of 34 toed the start line, it was peaceful. It felt like a group of friends setting off on a run.

The Pass Mountain 50K consists of completing two loops, 15.5-ish miles each, within Usery Mountain Regional Park. The beginning of the loop is super easy- gentle downhill to flat trail that winds through the lowlands surrounded by cholla and saguaro, with epic views of Flatiron in the distance. It’s smooth trail with no rocks. Easy running. Easy to go way too fast. I settled into a pace that felt good and just decided to go with it. There were two aid stations on this loop, in addition to the finish line. The first was 3.5 miles out, and the second was about 3.5 miles beyond that. Then you had the 7.5 or so miles back to the start line aid. I ran through the first aid station and didn’t stop. I stopped at the second one just to top off on water.

After the second aid station, I knew the trail would require more thinking- it was rockier and there would finally be some climbing. But I was feeling so good. The miles were ticking by on my watch and I felt strong. Aside from one or two particularly steep sections, I just ran. Up over rocks, bombing down into washes, it was all good. I remembered at Cave Creek that side stitches started up around 9 miles, but today, on this glorious day, I had none of that. On the trail up to the saddle of Usery Mountain, you are just running along the side of the mountain when suddenly, BAM! The trail turns a sudden corner to continue following the mountain and out below you is beauty defined, the valley stretching off in the distance. It’s shocking, and incredible.

Upon cresting the saddle, I knew it was pretty much all downhill to the start/finish line. I took it easy, knowing I still had to do this loop a second time. It was such a breeze, and so much fun! It felt great just feeling my muscles doing their thing and moving through the desert. I finished my first loop in 2:53:13. Whoops, a little bit fast for me. Oh well!

I knew as soon as I started out on the second loop that this one would be slower. I argued with myself for the entire first 7 miles. My body wanted to walk and I had to keep telling myself, “NO! This is downhill! This is flat! You are NOT walking a flat or downhill!” So I made myself keep a running motion. It sucked. Using this drill sergeant in my head, I made it to the first aid station where I grabbed a PBJ and a watermelon. I walked out as I ate, and then made myself run the whole way to the second aid station. Coming in, I heard someone behind me and guess what! It was the same guy I beat at Flagstaff Big Pine, and who beat me at Cave Creek (I need to learn his name). I asked him if he was ready to kick my ass today (I was feeling pretty done), and he said, “We’ll see!” At this second aid station, I refilled my water, grabbed some more food, and headed out again. I was frustrated- 5 or 6 people passed me at the aid station. But, I made myself keep running. I told myself that when I got to the more technical uphills, I was allowed to walk those, but nothing else. So that’s what I did. I power-hiked each rocky uphill, and ran and ran and ran. Somehow I started passing people. I have no idea how that happened. My legs were shot. I was dreaming of cold, fizzy coke, and laying down at the finish line. Glorious finish line. And pizza at the finish line. Coke and pizza. Mmmmmm….. And then… I hit the saddle! I’d finished climbing! Suddenly my legs were good, I had a second wind! I was golden! Downhill is my thing, it’s what I’m good at, and I ran with all my heart. Swooping, pounding the trail, sliding the corners, the desert spread out around and below me, and with the finish line within my grasp, I gave it everything. I crossed that finish line at 6:03:56. I was fourth female, and twelfth overall! As soon as I crossed though, all I could do was stand bent over panting. My husband was there to greet me and congratulate me, and tell me about his race. He ran the 5K and did so well! He finished 8th male and 12th overall! My kids were there too, to tell me about their adventures (bees and sticks, oh my!) while I’d been out.  Jamil handed me my finisher’s glass, which I promptly took over to the aid station and asked for ice and coke. I drank three (or was it four? maybe five?) of those before feeling ready to head over the Freak Brother’s Pizza and get my free pizza (for all 50K finishers). I ate my pizza, and drank more coke, and was happy. I’d done much better than I expected, and I felt really great. Oh, and I beat that guy from the other two races. I’m assuming he’ll be at McDowell Mountain Frenzy next weekend, so I suppose it’s his turn to beat me now!

Speaking of the Frenzy, this will be my first 50 mile race. And I’m not trained. It seems this is the racing season of anti-training for me. However, I’m really looking forward to this effort. I get excited at the prospect of a long run in the desert, it’s soothing. I have a 14 hour cut off to get this thing done, so I don’t know how soothing it will be, but, on this side of race day, I’m excited.

Run on!

A Ramble

“So how does a 50K work?” I was asked this question the other day and it completely confused me; I didn’t understand what was being asked. “Well, I mean, you don’t run it all at once right?” Oooohhhhh. Me: “Well, yes. You do.” I think there was confusion on their face.

It’s mind-boggling to me that there are people who haven’t heard of ultra-marathons; it is what I breathe. All I seem to be able to talk about is either geeky immunology or microbiology (or some other “ology” entirely), or running ultras and the best trails. Everybody I know is the same… well, at least regarding the latter part. I’m always wanting to hit that next trail, it’s constantly on my brain.

Perhaps this is the beauty of the trail running community here in Phoenix. We actually are a community. There are so many people who love the same dirt baths that I love, who aren’t afraid to push their bodies and indulge their curiosity to see how far that trail goes. Every day I see posts on Facebook asking if anyone is free for a run at this trail or that trail, or at a completely new trail. Any time, day or night (more nights as the temperatures begin to climb) people are usually able to find someone who is willing to hop on the trail with them. There are people here who want to be a part of what I love to do, as much as I want to be a part of what they love to do.

There is something incredibly freeing about running long. I know my body now better than I ever have. I know how to fuel it and hydrate it so I can keep going strong. Running long has given me confidence in my physical abilities, and given me reason to believe I am capable of many other things as well. I am seriously incredible. No really, you are too! Look at how our muscles all work together to propel us up a trail. It’s amazing: the brain is firing, the heart is pumping, feet are carefully placed, muscles strain, and sweat flows, all in perfect harmony that feels like agony that is beautiful. Incredible.

As I pursue my dreams and try to encourage others to pursue theirs, I often hear, “Oh no. I’m much too old for that now.” Wha…?????? How is this a thing? I desperately hope that I never, ever find myself in a place where the only reason I won’t pursue a dream is because I believe I’m too old. Too old to climb a mountain? No. Just… no. There is a difference between age and physical capability. If I am unable to climb a mountain because some part of me doesn’t work anymore, or is otherwise not well enough to do so, well then at least I climbed as many mountains as I could while I was able. But to forgo climbing a mountain only because of my age? This is absolutely not acceptable. The same with any other dream- to skip it only because of a strongly held belief that I am too “old”? Again, no. Something I have learned is that our beliefs shape everything about us. They shape our outlook on life, how we view others, how we view ourselves. All of this is simply a belief. When we change our beliefs (No, I’m not too old) our whole world changes.

So this ramble of a blog begins with consternation at the idea of running a 50K, moseys along into my amazing, local trail running community, and culminates at pursuing dreams. How does all of this tie together? Running long is not everyone’s dream, in fact, it’s not most people’s dream (weird, I know). And yet, we all have dreams. Some we have left behind for whatever reason, some we set on a back burner as life rushes by. Running long is how I grow in strength and confidence. It is my foundation for pursuing life. I fully believe I am meant, we all are meant, to pursue life. Sometimes it’s fun, sometimes it’s really not, but give me my long run, and I can promise you, I will live this life to its fullest. You should join me.