For my first attempt at a 60K, I was nervous. I knew there would be new challenges, and I knew from Grasslands, the trail was not to be underestimated. I’d been running more trails, mostly with the HATR’s, but the 2 weeks I’d spent in the Grand Canyon as my “taper” was a wild card. I gained about 7 lbs, drinking cocktails and making meat piles, and I was still working that off. I didn’t feel like I’d gotten back into proper running form. But I felt reasonably strong and rested, so I was as ready as I could be at the time.
There were a surprising number of HATR’s in the group tent, and it was good to see everyone and talk before the race. I learned I was the only one attempting the 60K, which surprised me, but I’m used to doing my own thing all the time, even if it gets lonely. It took me awhile to get ready, and the nice man who parked next to me (who I would later learn was Steven Moore, 2nd place finisher) kept me from walking off without my timing chip. More conversation and then lining up seemed to happen quickly!
I passed over the gate and tried to find my pace. Before that happened, there was a hill. A lot of hill. This hill kept going. There was climbing. Not so much on the running. I was doing OK, and thankful I’d just spent 2 weeks climbing straight up canyon walls, but by the time I got to the top, I was hot. How did I deal with this before? Oh that’s right, before going on these hikes, I completely immersed myself in 50 degree river water. Oh. Ah. My water in my Camelback wasn’t that cold either. I started to get hot. At some point near the top I bent over to pick up someone else’s ziplock bag, and ended up turning my ankle for the first time. “Eyes on the trail!” a helpful volunteer reminded me, and took the trash from me. Indeed. Good thing he didn’t see me turn my ankle again just a few paces beyond him. That time it hurt so badly I limped a bit from the shooting pain. I had to stop to move it around and see if I could work it out to run again. It calmed down, but this was well before the first aid station, and it slowed me down for the remained of the run. What was my problem? Let me quote Michael Welden trying to explain the similar rockiness of the Bandera trails (copied form a Facebook post): “I would say that to create a comparable course, one would take 31 miles of high powered explosives, drape them over a series of small mountains, like Christmas lights on the bushes in your front yard, and detonate them. After some of the smoke clears and the endless sea of jagged and variably sized rocks settles, take thousands of needle wielding, psychoplants and position them in the most inconvenient places possible all over the course. Then carve out an endless sea of deceptively intense climbs with utterly death defying descents (unless you’re one of the elite descent runners that seems superhuman when it comes to tap dancing a 5 minute mile down a jagged mess of inconsistency.) No two foot falls are the same in this race. Only after it ended, would I understand why this made it so perfect.”
Rocks. So many rocks. And I was getting hot. But soon the first aid station came into view. For those of you who don’t know what this feeling is like, recall the last time you stayed up for a day or two, and then that moment when you finally got to lie down. Aid stations are your soft pillow in an unending sea of you being stabbed awake with spears. The volunteers were tremendous! And the aid stations were very well stocked. I stuffed ice into my Camelback, my bra, my pockets, and my shorts, as much as I could fit. I was feeling much better. Next time I’ll bring a bandana to put some ice around my neck as well. The volunteers encouraged me to fill my Camelback, and I thought I was good until the next aid station, but I was oh so wrong. I sucked that thing dry with a ways to go (a mile? maybe more?), and that made me unhappy. (I didn’t pee for 4 hours.) Somewhere in there I was passed first by Marc (I think?), who checked in on me. We were both suffering from the heat. I said I was hot and tired, and my fucked up ankle was #3 on my list of problems. This was true. What I didn’t mention, though, is that I was in the depths of fatigue. My fatigue, one of the delightful legacies of the deal with the devil I made in order to live. Cancer related fatigue doesn’t feels like being more tired, it feels like being trapped under a pile of bricks. You hurt, and you suffocate, and with every movement you move the heaviest object you have ever lifted. I fought down tears. I fought down a primal urge to quit. It was the lowest point in the race, and it wasn’t even sundown yet. And then I jammed the side of my foot (why do I hate my right foot so much?!?) between rocks. Hard. So hard I thought I ripped my shoes and almost went down. Thank you core work! Still, that just made my ankle hurt that much more.
I knew if I wanted to quit, I’d have to make it to the next aid station anyway, so I just kept going, as quickly as I could. It was somewhere in here I admitted to myself that this trail was a few grades above my skill level at this time. I was hot, fatigued, hurt, and pretty much out of fluids, but I thought if I could just keep some pace, whatever that was, I’d sort it out later. Jose, Laura, Cesar, Daniel, maybe others passed me in here. They were looking strong. Not long after, I had to get out my headlamp, but I was just happy it was getting cooler. By the time I got to the aid station, well, those folks were so upbeat I didn’t have the heart to tell them I was thinking of quitting, and besides, they had a buffet of ice and Gatorade! You can always quit at the next aid station. But once I was refueled and cooled, I felt much better. Another woman had come in with a rolled ankle, and was going to sit for awhile. I figured I must not be that hurt because there was no way I was going to sit. I may have hallucinated the volunteer with the seashell bra but he was awesome. A young ranger had this to say about the next section of trail, “the elevation is better, but the rocks are worse.” The only thing I could think was , are you fucking kidding me?!?! How the fuck can the rocks be worse?!?!?
Oh that’s how. You know you’re screwed when you see a sign that says “no bikes beyond this point” and that’s where you’re running. After that in many sections I had to stop and look around at the rocks to find the least grassy part. That was the “trail.” Many runners passed me and so many of them were wonderful people, always checking on how I was doing. I even got an “excuse me ma’am.” Crap. I got ma’amed. Hanging reflective ribbons lit the way on the trail – it was very well marked. At the point where the “trail” descended across outcrop in a wash, I asked the universe, “are you fucking kidding me?!?” again. This is a great hiking trail, but I was climbing, not running. I interrupted a bug parade on one of the ledges, and as I accidentally wiped some of them off, a ~4 cm spider fell onto the back of my leg. And bit me. I didn’t even pause or look. That’s where I was. Spider bite was a distant 4th, or maybe 6th on my list of problems at that moment.
I climbed out of the wash and tried to make progress, tripping in the dark. With a headlamp, all the shadows are behind the rocks, squashing your depth perception. And you do get tired, which doesn’t help your vision. Maria and Reyna passed me, discussing when they should walk again. They said it was about 10:30. It was earlier than I thought, and I tried to pick up the pace as I could.
Another fabulous aid station! It had cooled enough I didn’t load myself up with ice other than my Camelback. Also, PBJ, yum! Then back into the suck of rocks. Somewhere the trail emerged into tall grasses and fireflies. It was beautiful. Also, it was mostly jeep dirt road and I actually ran for probably the longest stretch of the whole race. I missed a giant porcupine by a few minutes, alas. But at one point I thought I’d gone off course – it had been awhile since I’d seen a marker. I figured it was a small park and I knew the trail eventually led to the start gate so I just kept going anyway. All was well. Somewhere in here I finally stopped to pee, and I was reminded that Jose suggested I do an ultra workshop presentation for the ladies on how to pee standing up. Heh. It’s no big once you get the hang of it.
I made it back to the Lemons Ridge aid station after tripping more than I thought possible, and turning my ankle twice in the other direction, because symmetry is important to me, but still miraculously not falling. My ankle was really starting to let me know it hated me. After more fuel and encouragement form the volunteers, I set off on the last section. The trail was busy with people returning for their second loop, and then, the leaders passing me to finish their 60K! It might have been Matt Smith who passed me and collided heavily with a rock, “ah, that didn’t feel good.” I think I grunted, because I was trying not to laugh at his good natured comment, and I was impressed at how he never seemed to slow, even after such an audible thud.
I emerged from the descent, ran the last bit to the gate. I’d missed the time cutoff by 2:21, which was much closer than I thought. I might’ve considered going out again if I’d made it. I have mixed feelings. Because my ankle was toast. I had trouble getting my shoe off, and my peroneous longus was on fire. The nice people at the finish got me a bag of ice and put me in a chair. They were awesome. So was Brian, who made sure I made it to the car, and drove my carcass around.
What did I learn? I need to get faster. Just generally. Still. Probably this means losing more weight, as difficult as that’s becoming. Continue to work on speed in general. Ideally, I should train on rocky terrain to get some skills negotiating this. Not sure if that is going to happen. Get more ice, carry more fluids. Try 2 headlamp technique. Did I mention how wonderful the volunteers were? I can’t stress that enough. They really kept me going. I ran that thing by myself, a condition I didn’t much care for, not because I was fearful or worried, but because I was lonely. I’m social. Looking forward to seeing upbeat people made me want to keep going as quickly as I could.
I think this is my year to find the things I need to work on, to find the limits, so I can break them and make new ones. Some people fear failing to accomplish their original goals, but that just means their goals were too easy in the first place. One transformative thing that came out of this race was to think about my year now, and my year going forward – what will I be learning next year? I’m not used to thinking in years. I live in 6 month increments, but for a day or two, I had a year of time ahead of me, and I relaxed more than I have in awhile.
Reveille Ranch gnaws at my brain………maybe.