Tag Archives: TARC

Vermont 100: Horses, Runners, Crew and Pacers

23 Jul

It is 3:00 a.m. on a warm, rainy Saturday in July. The showers have just let up, and now the rain is a steady pit, pat on tent flies across a muddy field in the Mount Ascutney region of Vermont. We are all here, and no one is sleeping, for the 27th annual Vermont 100 Endurance Run footrace and horse rider event, which takes place on mostly private lands and dirt roads in the Hartland/Woodstock area.  All day Friday, the weather was gorgeous, but the rains came at night, fast moving, making me double-cross thankful that I was not running, but would be pacing a runner, for this event.

Suddenly, headlamps on, the first runners emerge from sodden tents, firing up camp stoves and slipping into gear that will carry them for the next 100 miles. As the 100-mile runners swiftly make their way to the main tent below, the rest of the campers turn over collectively in their sleeping bags. The next to rise will be the 100-mile runner crew (if the runner has a crew), followed by the 100-kilometer runners who will start later. And between tent city and the main tent, the horses and their trailers begin to awaken. Out come curry combs, picks, owners looking disheveled, with bits of hay in their coffee mugs. In the parking area there are two or three campers – an A-Frame trailer, a small home-built box trailer, and our Airstream B-190 hippie van, complete with tie-dye curtains and dancing bear decals that we thought we’d leave on when we bought it, in the spirit of happy camping. The hard top was certainly appreciated when the skies opened, and water for coffee heats easily on its propane stove. From our elevated loft window, we have enjoyed a view of rain, mud, runners, pacers, crew, dragging gear back and forth across a rain-drenched gully.

We get up around six o’clock, realizing that already the 100 milers have been on the trail two hours. A second round of activity erupts around seven o’clock as the 100 kilometer runners make their way to the start line. We watch. There are maybe thirty runners for the shorter distance, which still, at sixty odd miles, is a challenge and takes on much of the hardest part of the overall course. Off they go, skies cloudy but the rain holding off, for now. We mosey back up the hill, then out for breakfast. Up in Hartland, the Bassett family (a local family very involved in the race) owns The Hartland Diner that serves knock-out Vermont maple sausages. We each had three. A Bassett youth with red braided hair and “VT 100” in glitter on her cheeks serves us eggs, toast, sausages, and for Tom, big Vermont pancakes. As a pacer, I had the leisure of hanging out. Most of the pacers would not join their runners for several more hours. In the meantime, we finish our breakfast and joke about the diner’s decor, which consists of many plastic diner-saurs on the counter. Clever. The Bassett waitress asks if we were involved in the race. “I’m pacing” I reply. “Oh! I’m pacing too!” A brief exchange of smiles, pleasant see-you-theres.

The weather really starts to clear on our return. With the exception of backing into a fence (it was me), stopping to knock on the door, pay for the fence, the drive to and from breakfast was uneventful.

Back at camp, the sun came out strong. The 100 mile runners had been out for about six hours at this point. I estimated the mid-packers to be about mile 40. Nap time.

Pacing at Vermont 100 is a curious job. The pacer is picking up his or her runner, for the most part, at mile 69.4 at an aid station called Camp 10 Bear (or Bear 10, I’m not really sure.) The runners are tired. They have just run 70 miles. At six-thirty p.m., Camp 10 Bear was a very busy place. The two port-o-lets doors were constantly locked. Crew, most looking like bedraggled family members, stood around car hatches gaping with gear. When would their runner arrive? Did someone see him at the last aid station? I heard so-and-so dropped. Here come some horses! This is how conversation goes at 10 Bear. Runners, riders, crew cars arrived in trickles, each time an occasion for applause, cheers, families running forward to take water bottles and find out what their runner needed. The crews looked as tired as the runners and had been up driving back roads since five. A scan of the food at the Trail Animals Running Club Aid Station told me that, as usual, the best of the aid stations was right here.

I go from spectator to evaluator to friend to big sister in a fell swoop at 7:30 p.m. as I spot my runner. He is shaking his head as he comes down the hill, not smiling. I greet him and we move to get him weighed in. Then he immediately sits in hopes of recovering from a sour stomach, and after a few minutes, taking some time to lie down on one of the aid station cots, under a pop up tent. There are two other runners there – one with trench foot, one with severe chafe. They commiserate. I am anxious and want to get us moving, but I know that I have to be patient. Then the skies open. Sheets of rain come down. We are for the moment barely covered by the tent. We wait to run. Run? Off we go.

Crews cannot help after the aid station. This is now the pacer’s job. While we can’t carry gear for the runners, we can “hold on to” a bottle or jacket while the runner adjusts her pack, or headband, or while he tries to eat. Pacers can try to make conversation. Sometimes, this is not effective and is even annoying to the runner. A good pacer needs to know when to shut up. A great pacer can sense when to pull out a good story after a long silence. Mostly it’s a guessing game. A pacer needs to be thinking for his runner, willing to let a fart happen without comment, be ready to run ahead to aid stations to get water, or saltines, or to shout out a runner’s number. A runner just needs to at most run, but at best, by this time, walk efficiently. Each step forward is further than the last one. Sunset happens. The runners look hang-dog while the pacers try to be perky, taking in the view before everything goes black.

At dark, headlamps come out and bop along in front and behind, picking up sparkling sodden leaf reflection and mud spatter. At one point, I go down so fast I barely feel the landing as my butt slides in the mud. Hopping up, I am covered from ass to shins in Vermont’s finest.

Pacers from 10 Bear only cover the last thirty miles. Much of this is walking and fast hiking, but nothing too technical. Someone says this is the hardest part of the whole route because of the unrelenting mud and hills. Aid station, big hill, enter trail, mud, slide, down, out onto dirt road, a few miles, aid station. Several moments of bliss as we bop down a mud-covered trail when my runner is feeling well.

At the next aid station, Spirit of ’76, a volunteer remarks that they have seen many, many upset stomachs all day. Could it have been dinner the night before? No, probably not, he says. It was the rain and then the sun that came out, and the humidity. It is humid, still. Maybe seventy five degrees, at night, and the air is like breathing a cloud. I remark on the jazzy patriotic decor and pretty lights. A time-wizened volunteer tells me one runner came through and asked, “What does Spirit of ’76 mean?” I laugh. Probably wasn’t born yet!

The runners look battle-worn. Some lie down on the ground napping and alternately shivering. A couple go and retch up whatever is in their stomachs – not much. Hard to eat on a sour stomach. Hard to catch up when you haven’t eaten. Can I help? Would you like some soup? Soup seems to do the trick for now.

Crews look worried. They have been following – and then waiting on – their runners all day. Some of their runners have not come in yet. Even though the cut-off is a long way away, did they get caught in that awful storm? Are they somewhere out there being sick? Are they in a ditch? No, not likely. Just making their way, one foot in front of the other.

I have that go-go-go-go need in my legs. It’s one thing to have only gone seven miles when your runner has gone 76. Let’s find some compromise. I hear other pacers making the same case on either side of me. The pacer also has to continually assess the situation. Shivering is not good. Here, I say, hold this soup. The shivering stops. I get drillmaster big-sister bossy. This is not well received. But cajoling does nothing. Only time fixes this.

A pacer is fortunate if she has made sure to catch sleep for several hours before going out to pace, because a pacer needs to keep a clear head when the runner starts to get bleary. I am reminded of college drinking days, walking home from a party with someone much drunker and much more prone to be just about to puke than me (we all had that friend, right?) Trying to distract. I look around at what scenery I can detect in the dark – grassy hillside, wet tree limbs dripping, some animal crashing through the woods ahead. We come upon a pacer-less runner we had spent some time with before. She is off-and-on. She does not want a pacer. She is stubborn and resolute as she stumbles forward. I am beginning to think this 100 mile thing is for the birds, and I am glad I did not sign up to run it. (Nor will I ever. Tom jokes I will be online signing up for my first within days of Vermont… it’s been four and I’m still never doing it. Eighty is plenty for me.)

There are fleeting moments of great revelation between runners and pacers. I see a pair of headlamps ahead and hear laughter as we climb a hill. Laughter is good. We are catching up, and I strain to hear the conversation. On and off we pass people, and they pass us. In my head I have an image from my runner’s story that won’t go away. A good story to remember to tell Tom later when I get back to the hippie van.

An unmanned aid station and several hills later, I am beginning to school-nurse worry about my runner friend. We discuss the situation. Things get better, but then slip back to worse. The words “not sustainable” are uttered and I wrack my brain trying to think of every anti-nausea solution out there that hasn’t been tried yet. It is three a.m. and I know from studying the elevation that we have a couple of good dirt road hills ahead. I have a tin full of first aid but none of it will work, unfortunately. At Cow Shed Aid Station, I know we are just down the road, down the hill, from headquarters and the campground. From here the route goes out away from headquarters and back again in another part of the clover leaf. Runners at this point, mile 83, are either jubilant or simply done. There is a nice campfire here that seems to dry the humid air. A man tending the fire asks questions and talks a lot. The chairs are all taken. One runner snores, given in to sleepiness.  This aid station has COFFEE, which I take, black please and thank you! Soup for my runner.  The volunteers quietly chat as runners come and go. A decision is made. We are Calling It A Day at mile 84. A respectable distance but nothing much registers except weariness for my runner. I offer myself to pace a new runner but I know that at this point, every runner who wants one has got one. I will jump in the van with another pacer and runner who are CIAD. The van arrives. The pacers climb back to the third bench back, since the driver wants the sick runners to sit near a window, just in case. I greet my fellow pacers, one on either side of me. The woman on my right says, “My runner already got taken, but I had to wait.” We are all quiet. “You guys should check in with medical.” It is a short drive back up the hill to the campground and the big tent. We stagger out of the van and into the tent. Now I get to be runner, if needed, for dry clothes, cell phone, wallet? Then I am released from duty. It is a little less than 24 hours since my runner started. I go back and forth in my head as I walk back to the car. Should I have not let him quit? Should I have not insisted on the medical tent check? I get into the van and Tom is sleeping. He wakes up when he hears me. Another adventure over. Now we can sleep. In the morning, I will find out how my runner fared, but for now, it’s lights out.

Sunday we rise bright and early to another gorgeous sunny day. Oh, had the weather been like this yesterday it may have meant a little less trench foot, a little less chafe, a little less sick and shivering. Horses, Runners, Crew and Pacers start to pack up. You know the runners because they walk funny. Crews sleep in. The horse owners are taking down temporary fencing and brushing everyone down. There are still runners out there.  In order to be official finishers, they must finish by ten. I wonder when my runner would have finished had he felt better. I am guessing 25, 26 hours, enough for a coaster but not a buckle. It will take time for him to get back into the swing of things, to find and sign up for another 100 attempt. This distance is not for sissies. Even the 30-hour folks are tough as nails and determined as the horses that joined them on the trail yesterday. We see them stagger in, the sun at their backs, a day and night out there behind them. They are all heroes to me, course finished or not.

Photo courtesy 30bananasaday.com

Wapack and Back from the Back of the Pack: 21 miles journeying Greenfield to Ashburnham

12 May

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It is two o’clock in the afternoon, a hot Saturday in May, and I am climbing again. I am down to a sip of water in each of my two six ounce bottles; on my back, the collapsed bladder inside my pack has the residue of water mixed with lemon/lime NUUN “pixie dust” electrolyte flavoring. I have been passed by a woman who was playing slingshot with me most of the day, and my legs are burning. The trail, rocky the past mile, has opened up to reveal another peak of some sort – hill or mountain, everything I’ve climbed today is higher than I’m used to in little Rhode Island. I wonder about the water. I wonder how much further the next aid station will be. I take a moment to check the view, but just a moment. I don’t have a lot of time and I need to keep moving. The pressure to move is always there. It seems a shame to pass the views by, but the brain takes on a linear focus of moving moving moving, of getting some water, and moving until you don’t have to move anymore.

I was pretty sure when I signed up for this race in January that I didn’t really think much about the words “elevation gain” or “challenging.” Somehow, sitting in the safety of a cold winter day with a hot coffee in one hand and a laptop open to ultrasignup… this can be a dangerous thing. The ideal of a community, the comraderie, of a beautiful May day doing something you love with a hundred or so other like-minded people is very fetching. The reality is somewhat more like a terrifying middle school dance mixed with being chased by slow demons across beautiful trail that you can’t spend a lot of time with. Speed dating the trail, sort of. You discover as you go. You wrestle major anxiety leading right up to the very start. You resign yourself to a steady state of urgency for the next several hours. You finish, usually, to little fanfare but plenty of kind words and quiet slaps on the back.

Wapack and Back (because, yes, there are these ultra-godlike humans who somehow think it is fun to go in one direction for 21.5 miles, but turn around and do it AGAIN, and then, a few of them turn around and go BACK OUT another 3.5 miles [this includes 2 “hills” for a total of 4 climbs in addition to what they did x 1 more than you did]) is put on each May by Trail Animals Running Club. For a ridiculously low entry fee, runners are treated to all the royal treatment one can expect from TARC: outstanding volunteers and race directors, most of them very talented runners themselves, fully stocked aid stations, and serious trail.  I signed up for the 21.5 miles, thinking that the “and back” was going to be more mileage than I needed at this time, or had time to train for. Once again, I paid no attention to the elevation profile. Like, I was in denial. I knew from glancing that it had lots of pointy tops. Since I am an analyst, I look at lots of charts like this (none of them having anything ever to do with elevation, so I don’t know what the hell I was thinking when I blew off the elevation chart like, huh, you can present data in any way and elevation charts are no different.) I just remember filing away in my mind that there would be some up and down and I would have to walk some ups, and that this would somehow make me enjoy it more, like, this isn’t a race, just a fancy training “run” with fully stocked food stops so I wouldn’t have to carry my own snickers bars!  Except one doesn’t take into account that despite the desire to treat it like a Sunday jalopy ride in the country, it IS a race, after all, and one has a bit of a competitive (and altogether unrealistic) streak and there was no way I was not going to do my very best to “race”, since damnit, I paid to do this.  Also, my ego thinks that since I have done a few races at this point, I could handle whatever this thing threw at me. I did make the mistake of reading some blogs. Even fast, elite people were saying it was hard. I told Janet, my fellow Rhode Island runner, not to read the blogs. Of course, she read them, so that morning we were both a little bit worried.

It was quickly apparent what kind of race this was when we arrived at the Finish, where we were to leave the car and board the bus for the start. I saw some serious trail people, including some whose names appear regularly in the top ten winningest winners for these races. I immediately felt klunky, like a freshman sitting at the wrong lunch table full of the cool seniors who know exactly what to say and wear and eat. Then I remembered that these people are seriously real, and kind, and that while it was appropriate to be awed in their presence, it wasn’t polite to stare. I yanked my eyes from examining the shoes of a fast looking blonde, and made a mental note that she, too, is a fan of Cascadias.

We took the big yellow school buses up to the start. Too soon, we were let off at another parking lot where GOD, REALLY?, the first runners who had started at 5 AM were passing through for the turnaround. Shirtless wood nymphs flying through the aid station, bandanas and black shorts, unearthly gliding through, back out, up the hill. Running. Someone shaking a cow bell. Uh oh.

I go and pee from being nervous, and then we get together to start. The race director gathers us and sends us down the road and into the woods. Up the trail. It starts uphill pretty much immediately.

I am thinking about what Wendy, a Trail Animals Running Club regular and all around nice person, said in the parking lot when speaking of her first Wapack and Back. She said, “I thought to myself in the first mile, Oh my God What In The Hell Have I Gotten Myself Into?” We are all in a conga line and Wendy is up ahead, somewhere. Obviously, she has come a long way since then. Should I be worried?

FIRST CLIMB

I am at the back of the line. I’m pretty sure I’m the last runner. My first experience being dead last. I am taking it easy, holding back, because we still have like twenty miles, right? So it’s just ridiculous to run at this point, right? And someone has to be last. You know. Like maybe I could be the sweep, which is a very important person, if you ask me.

But up there, see? They’re running.

I run a little. Now I am hot. Off comes the pack as I walk, off come the two thin top layers.

I hear panting behind me. I run a little.

The panting one runs a little. So now, I can’t really walk, can I?

SECOND CLIMB

We spread out. So, I haven’t been passed by the panting one, and I am panting, so we two are in a tandem place of acceptance. We will be winners today because we will finish this thing, but we will be last. I have passed no one at this point. Janet and her friend have moved ahead, out of reach. I settle in to a run-where-I-can, hike the ups, skedaddle the downs. During a skedaddle session, I passed three people. I tried to stay consistent on the climbs, keeping my steps small and billygoatlike, my breath even and full. The trail here is big slabs of granite. We are in New Hampshire, after all. I finally catch up to Janet and Laura. But not for long.

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I stayed with these awesome chicks just long enough to be like, guys? guys? Hey I’ve been chasing you like forever and I finally caught up, guys? Hey, wait for me!

And just on the other side of this, we entered this clearing and there was Aid station number one. All I had to do was glance at my watch to know that this wasn’t quite a third of the way in. In fact, one volunteer loudly proclaimed, we were one lifetime yet only five point five miles in. I did that cartoon head shake thing, gave some love to the volunteers as they filled my bottles, and processed that I had sixteen odd miles to go, and wouldn’t it be strange if they were as hard as the first five?

CLIMB THREE

Just after the aid station, we crossed a road and then went up this dirt road that was quite steep. Disliking the direct sun and no shade, I power walked and kind of tried again to stay with Janet and Laura, who were talking and neither one was panting. And I was like, pant, pant, um guys?

Not sure exactly where I lost them. they lost me.

RIDGELINE

Alone for awhile, I took a moment to pee. One nice thing about trail running is peeing in the woods. One eye on the trail, the other on my shoes, I hear some panting and see a woman come up the trail. I am being passed as I pee.

Let me just say that this section, the ridgeline between those first climbs and the next climbs, was pretty stunning running. Pocahontas light feet, a swell view, the promise of a sunny day, birds singing.

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Except that if you stop to take this picture, you risk slipping back to being last, again. Or, there is always this moment that you think, am I even on the right trail? Sometimes, it’s just better to keep moving.

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I am feeling pretty good at this point. I’m maybe two and a half hours in. I am not hungry, and not thirsty, and the day is perfect, and while I wish I wish I wish I were a little faster, because wouldn’t it be nice? I accept the fact that I am not, but I am something that is pretty cool: tenacious. I am dedicated and have good stick-to-it-iveness. I love being out here and I know I will finish. I won’t be first and maybe I’ll be last, but I am steady and determined. That’s a skillset!

CLIMB FOUR

I could have stayed up on that ridgeline forever. It began to descend fairly gently (compared to some of the others.) I heard some fast feet behind me. It was two of the “and Back” fellas, and boy, were they speedy. I hooted and clapped and pretended to chase them like some annoying old lady. They kind of laughed. At the bottom of this wonderful long flowy mountain bike downhill doubletrack dream, the trail abruptly ended at a road and this vision of a woman with her kid surrounded by about forty gallons of water. I stopped, refilled, and asked her which way? She said, go to the road, down the hill, and the trail is at the end. THANK YOU!!!! Real tears.

It was here that I caught? two people and passed them. On the road. I know a lot of trail runners don’t do a lot of road running and dislike it. I moved across the road into the shade and trucked along, knowing if it was the only place I was going to all out run today, I might as well go for it.

When you do that, it means you have to maintain it. At least until they can’t see you anymore, and then you can stop and pant for a bit.

At the end of the road, the trail collapsed into the forest and turned into a muddy doubletrack leafy ATV trail. I pretended I was awesome and ran for the next few miles, mud, ruts and all.

CLIMB FIVE

I have stopped running. This is interesting, this trail goes straight up. Like, normally, wouldn’t there be switchbacks? I really, really need to keep moving though because if I stop to catch my breath those two people who I passed on the road will pass me, and I will be close to last or even last, again.

Suddenly, at the top, I am dumped out at a road, a couple of roads, and I lose the trail.

I head down this long dirt road, knowing I am stupid to do this because I have not seen any trail markers.

It is now officially hot out.

Wait – is that a person? Coming toward me?

She has a number!

I run faster to catch up. She looks pissed. She is shaking her head. She has gone to the bottom of the road and there is no trail marker. Together, we shuffle back up the hill.

CLIMB SIX

We get to the top of this road and I see the guy I passed earlier heading right, where we missed the turn. I follow him, eventually passing again. I am ahead of the guy and the lady who I had met at the bottom of the wrong road. We come in to aid station two (I don’t want to know where we are in the run, because if they tell me like, seven miles? I will lay down and die), and I am feeling devilish and a little hyper and fun, and grab my M&Ms and make idle chitchat while I notice the wrong turn woman had come in just behind me and gone. So I skedaddle, trying to stay with her. I get ahead of her on the climb, a beautiful, sweet staircase of a climb. I stop to take this picture at the top:

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See that person? That’s the wrong-turn girl who just passed me. Ah, well. She looks strong, doesn’t she? That’s because she is.

CLIMB 7

I can’t even. I am out of water. How did that happen. Wait, I’m five hours in? How long since the last aid station?

CLIMB 8

A photographer. How’d he get up here? I wonder if he has any water?

BEAVER POND

Somehow, I never expected this Adirondack scene in the middle of this trail on the NH/MA border:

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I am tempted to strip and swim.

And then goodness, some nice boring safe flat stuff for awhile. The stuff that makes me think of my Dad, of how he loved being out hiking… all the wonderful things to see and here… you feel secure enough to try to identify whether that wuk wuk you heard was a bullfrog or a juvenile pileated woodpecker and then BAM! Down you go.

Okay, so that’s good, I got that out of the way. I’m tired. I fell. At least I didn’t open that knee I always seem to skin. I just have pine needles up my shirt. Get on up. Get moving. I reach for my water and shake the empty bottle. I wonder whether that last aid station was the last aid station. I check the other bottle. Empty. I check the bladder on my back. I can taste NUUN fumes. I’m also a little peckish. And hot. I have a GU in my pack and a melted snickers bar, but both require water because otherwise GUH! So I run and worry.

LAST AID STATION

Two guys and a dog. Water! I get my refill, and venture the question. Hey guys, I have like, five miles or something left? Nah, more like three. Oh, I think. Like a 5K. They ask, so how do you like it so far? I say, this is the hardest thing I have ever done. Then I say, I think I am close to last, guys, so you won’t have to be out here much longer. And the one guy goes, for the 21.5? No, it looks like there’s about fifteen people behind you. So you better get moving.

This next part is a dirt road, so I get to think, again. And I’m like, duh! I totally forgot that they have yet to see some of the 43 and 50 milers, so they will have to be there even after the last 21.5 miler kindergartener has gone through. You know, it is really a big deal to volunteer. They are out there all day long. They are there to help you. They are awesome. I am going along thinking this and then BAM! Down I go again. This time, I hit knees and elbows. I don’t even have to look to know there’s blood. Ow. I sit there for a moment. I am not going to go crying back to the aid station, now a half mile back. I get up, squirt some of my precious water on the knee, and shakily start jogging.

CLIMB 9/10

I begin to see some signs of civilization, or at least, that I am nearing the finish. It seems that way. I am seeing people as I climb. These are people not decked in spandex or carrying water and so that means these are normal people out for a nice hike with children and stuff. I get to the top and this woman, she has an umbrella stroller she is dragging, and this toddler, and two bigger kids, and she says, “does this trail go down to 119?” and I said, yes, that is where I am going. And she says, but we just came all the way up here, I thought!” She was all turned around. I said, well, I just came from the other way and 119 is not that way.” Then she got a look at my blood and was like, uh, are you okay?

I chucked down the trail, thinking, that must have been the last climb, right? Well, actually, it kind of was, but it wasn’t. The trail started back up the other side of the saddle. I could see what must have happened to the woman. She had already been to the top of THIS part, and had gone down the wrong way, and ended up at the top of the other one. I felt badly that she would have a couple of miles or so to get her and that stroller back down. At this point, there were more people. Everyone I encountered stared at my bloody knee.

And then it couldn’t be anything but the last descent.

Lovely piney woods, big rocks.

I saw more of the 50 milers coming back for their last seven.

Families with children.

My last fall, this time, on my ass.

And finally, finally, the down turned to slightly down and then to flat, and I knew the finish was just ahead because I could hear 119. I pulled whatever energy was left out of my rear end and “sprinted” to the finish. wapackfinish phone-spr-2015 285 phone-spr-2015 284

I love trail running, because everyone so mellow and nice and easy going. Let’s get a picture of that awesome carnage before we find some peroxide to pour on it, shall we?

I found Janet asleep in her car, having finished over a half an hour earlier. As she drove us back home, I thought about the day, and how my expectations have changed the more of these things I do. How I am never as sore as I was the first time I did one of these crazy trail races. How quickly I take it all for granted, and how easily this trail humbled me. How while I was not dead last, I was close to it, and that was okay, all ego aside. We need people like me in these things. We turtles who are out there twice as long as the winners, who stop and take pictures, who play catch up only to lose any gains joking around at the aid stations. How strong I’ve become, even if I’m slow. How some people wish they could do what we do.

Back home, after this simean princess took a long bath and ate an entire Pizzeria Uno Potato and bacon pie, alone (Tom had taken the pups up to Grammy’s for a mother’s day overnight) with my battle wounds and twitch-inducing memories of the day, I thought about something my brother had said to me when I saw him last, in March. We had been discussing smoking and other little or big (however you might want to look at it) habits or addictions, something I used to do a lot of. Like, a pack a day of. It’s been years and I don’t miss it. He raised an eyebrow. One could argue, he said, that your trail running is just an addiction replacing another addiction you gave up? Nah, I said at the time, it’s nothing like that.

I take a bite of my potato-bacon pie and glance at the mud covered shoes in the corner. Maybe, I thought. I didn’t really have time to think of it, though, because I was logged in to ultrasignup, checking out this race in South Carolina in the fall.

I will never, ever do that again. Until next time.

I will never, ever do that again. Until next time.

Persephone finally digs herself out

26 Apr
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Cellar hole, South Kingston land trust trail, January 2015

I realize I haven’t written here since December. I have had many adventures this winter in which I shoveled snow, shoveled more snow, ran in snow, worried about ice dams and the weight of snow on the barn’s roof, slipped and fallen in snow, and driven in snow. The snow didn’t stop until… well, we had a few flakes last week, and it’s April.

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…and then the snow came, in February.

But it *really* stopped in March. And although I did get out there and run in the stuff, I slowed down some this winter.

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A beautiful winter run in Canonchet preserve. Farm field and woods. January 2015

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Curious monkey with Mister Monkey, coldest run ever. 2015.

Part of it was that I did not have a specific race I was training for. Despite my perhaps overly-ambitious plan to run the 80 mile North South Trail in June, I didn’t have any marathons on the calendar. I signed up for the Quonset Point half marathon because it was cheap and it was going to happen on my birthday. For the most part, Tom and I spent our winter hibernating, and running some.

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Farm scene, Kenyon village, February 2015

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Headstone, Kenyon village, February 2015

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Monkey done. No more snow, please.

Around mid-March, we learned that my Dad was not doing well, and so I made plans to get to North Carolina. We all scrambled to get there. My Dad’s reputation of being hardy and history of bouncing back made me slightly doubtful of all of the hubbub, but then I got a second call that my plans better be firm. I flew in on Wednesday, March 25th. In some ways, it was like a reunion, because all of his kids were there. We got to spend three long days talking, singing Beatles and Simon & Garfunkel (badly), and eating my mom’s wonderful dinners. My Dad, Bill Janes, died on Saturday morning, March 28th.

My Dad.

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Two artists sketching. Christmas 2014.

I could wax poetic about my father, what he did, what he meant to us, what he MEANS to me, how fair and wise he was, how giving and courageous and curious he was (he put the curious in Curious Monkey) and what a lover of justice, the environment, and family he was. He has many fans. I’m not sure I have the words. He was just a really cool guy. He was tough when he needed to be. He liked to hike and run. He loved being outside. He loved his kids and grandkids. And his dogs. He loved to eat. He loved my mom.

The day he died, we were all there. He was home. It was sweet and sad.

After being pretty much cooped up in the house for three days, we all kind of burst forth into this sunny day. I took my rental car and went for a run in Blue Walls Preserve.

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It was hard. Lots of climbing. But it was beautiful and that’s what my dad would have done, if it were him in my running shoes.

He left a wonderful legacy, and he also left us all with a tremendous chest cold. I spent the next three weeks with the worst cold I have had in years. I am still not over the cough.

A week after he died, my grand-niece Diana was born. I still haven’t seen her because of my cold. I intend to make a trail animal out of that kid. Lily and Jake are great parents so far and I am so proud of them.

When I say I didn’t make plans this winter, I was a little bit lying. I DID put myself on two waiting lists for trail races. Right around the time that Dad died, I found out I was going to be running both the TARC (Trail Animals Running Club) Spring Classic Trail 50K, and the 21 mile Wapack and Back (without the “and back.”) I was happy, because it meant I finally had a goal, but I couldn’t seriously train until the cold let up. Maybe the cold was a physical way to grieve. I don’t know. I did get on the bike one or two days. And out on the road I went. Eight miles here, three miles there. The week I got back, my good friend Georgia got me out for a 24 miler on the East Bay Bike Path. It was a glorious sunny day, with a high wind. The birds were singing. I thought about Bill, and had a moment where I fell apart. Like a passing shower, I recovered quickly. Just one little bird did it.

Then, on April 12th, I ran the Quonset Half Marathon put on by Ocean State Multisports for my birthday. It was a great day and I felt strong despite the chest congestion and coughing. I finished in two hours, and of course, had wonderful birthday cake that evening to celebrate. The following weekend, my friend Georgia invited me to run the More Half Marathon in New York City with her. My friend Bonnie from work loaned me a RISD Road Kill jersey, which I wore to both half marathons.

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Georgia and I had a great time in the city. I saw my childhood friend MLE in Brooklyn. We had dinner and many smootchie moments. She was a little bit Janes kid growing up and so it was nice to celebrate Bill’s life with her. The next day, I ran central park. And once again, coming up over a hill and seeing the dogwood in bloom, I had a passing shower moment. Just utter, gut crunching sadness that passed almost as soon as it came.

Since I was running for Georgia’s daughter, who had hurt her knee, we kept the pace light, and even ran with Ang the last mile. We finished in 2:14.

Going from a season of “signed up for nothing” to race almost every weekend, yesterday I did the TARC Spring Classic 50K. This endurance run takes place in Weston, Massachussetts. Tom and I had been here before when volunteering for the TARC 50 and 100 miler, a few years ago. We arrived bright and early, and dragged my gear from the car to the fenceline by the horse area. I wasn’t nervous. I have gotten my share in of longer trail runs and like I said, I wasn’t afraid to get out and run in the snow. But I hadn’t run all week due to a little pain in my hamstring. The day before, I had ridden 41 miles on the road bike, hoping that would give me some warm up for the owie hamstring and serve as my “back to back” endurance effort I needed in preparation for the North South Trail in June. I had a goal time of six hours, thirty minutes. It was about 40 degrees at the start, a bright sunny day promising temps in the 50s by the afternoon. I was a little over-dressed to start with, and didn’t know too many of the other runners. I did get to meet a woman from TARC who deals with their merchandise. She was super friendly and helpful, and I couldn’t help but buy a TARC jacket. I went out on lap one wearing the jacket. It would come off by lap two.

First lap, I went out conservatively, in the herd, running slowly, stopping occasionally when everyone else ahead of me stopped. Things thinned out about mile two. The course was delightful. Not a lot of rocks and roots, like Rhode Island, but a lot of leafy lanes and doubletrack. Some good hills. A lot of turns, all well marked. TARC puts on a good race. As I came in from lap one, I knew I needed to take off some clothes, and maybe fix a bunched sock. So I did that, and ate, and went to the porto-let, and all in all spent far too much time at the snack table.

 

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TARC Spring classic trail map

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TARC Spring classic, in my head.

 

Second lap was hard. I was alone, having lost a buddy who had been chatting with me and telling me stories. I was mostly alone, and failed to recognize where I was, so everything seemed longer. I knew from the first lap that there was this last.   left.   turn.  It came right before the finish, and it was followed by a little climb, a drop, and then an exit onto doubletrack that led straight to the finish line. I could not wait for that left turn. Where is it? Maybe I went the wrong way. Come on. Where’s that turn. Where’s that f**king last left turn??? A right turn. Another right turn. A long straightaway… some singletrack with some stones, rocky, rooty, muddy, hop a creek, another right turn. Another straightaway. And finally… The Last F**king Left Turn.

Third lap, back out. I took less time at the aid station. Time was cooking. I got in to a groove, and reconnected with my buddy Pete. Pete was from Massachusetts and works as an IT guy, and comes from a big family. His sister is an artist. Hearing all of these stories, lap three really flew by.

Lap four, I lost Pete, and was on my own again. But there was a group of marathoners who were finishing up their last lap, and they were having a trail party. They sat on my heel, which was fine, entertaining me with their talk. I kept my pace even and tried not to think too hard about my hamstring. I caught up with Pete at the end of this loop.

My fifth and final lap, Pete and I agreed to stick together to make it more bearable. Everyone was tired. The half marathoners and marathoners were for the most part done, so it was quieter out on the trails. We ran with Brenda, a Trail Animals regular, and she kept us talking and alert throughout. Tradition dictated I “say goodbye” to different trail features as it would be the last time I would be seeing them (until next year.) Goodbye steep hill. Goodbye lovely farm. Goodbye ferny glade. GOODBYE LAST F**KING LEFT TURN. I didn’t think about my dad during the race. Each of my loops was maddeningly consistent: 1:15 with 2-5 minutes at the aid station. I finished with a time of seven hours.

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Finish line, 2015 TARC Spring classic. Smiling because done.

I hugged Brenda and Pete, and then invaded the aid station. M&Ms, oreos, fig newtons, cheetoes, leftover potatoes, corn chips, half an apple, an orange, a snack bar, two cups of straight coca cola. The last of the runners were coming in, and we cheered for them. The two guys in kilts. The determined last runner. We all sat or stood around, on tarps, in chairs, or changing to fresh clothes. Finally, Tom and I decided to hit the road.

As we pulled up Bell Schoolhouse Road, Tom pointed out the great blue heron alighting from a pine tree at the base of the hill. Suddenly, the seven hour day gave way and I choked on a sob, and had another passing shower where I was filled with such loss and sadness that my Dad was gone, and I would never see him again.

It was over before it started. Winter seems endless. We await that final F**king left turn. A bird takes off. Something pushes through the earth and blooms.

 

Damn Wakely Dam Ultramarathon (kinda sorta 50ishK in the wilds of Upstate NY) July 2014

23 Jul

Don’t stop. Walking is okay, but not stopping.

This is going through my head as I pass a man who has stopped on the trail, ahead of me. He has stopped, and his pack is off, and he looks pretty beat.

“Are you okay?” I ask as I run by (not stopping).

“Yeah, just gotta have something to eat.” he says unconvincingly, as if he doesn’t himself believe it.

“Okay! Good run!” I holler, squeezing past him on the narrow trail, careful not to crowd him, as if the stopping were catching. I feel bad. I have been running behind him for about two miles, and could feel him starting to wither as I got closer and closer. But I can’t stop, and even if I could, I am not sure it would help his race any. We are at mile 16 of the Wakely Dam Ultra, and the past three miles were a major change from the first 10. The trail went from lovely flowy fairly flat non-technical to suddenly muddy, narrow, overgrown, and hilly.  This is my first Wakely Dam and I have been training for this for most of the year. So far, the trail has been less threatening, less remote, and less challenging than any of my long training runs in Connecticut and Rhode Island have been. I move along the trail and think about this and think about the task at hand. No stopping, not even for the views.

This all started last year on a trip up to the Adirondacks with Tom. I was training for my first trail ultramarathon that would happen in October. In September, Tom and I camped at Buck Pond Campsite and ran an old railbed into Saranac Lake and back (22 miles – the longest I’d ever run on trails.) While we were there, I had read there was an 80K taking place that weekend for both mountain biking and running (the ADK 80K). We drove to find the festivities but found none. When I got back, I tried to look up the results, which showed only a handful of runners. I thought, hey, I could do that maybe? And looked to see where to sign up. Nothing online. I e-mailed the bike shop that put the event on and didn’t hear back. In the meantime, in my online travels, I saw a blog post about the Wakely Dam Ultra – a 55K on the Northville-Lake Placid trail, in one of the most remote sections of the Adirondack Park. Hm. A 55K. That’s like, 34ish miles? I could do that, maybe? I thought.  Here I hadn’t even run my first ultra yet, and I was already planning my second (thanks, Gail.) The addiction had begun. I put the registration lottery date on my calendar and forgot about it for awhile.

In the meantime, I ran my first 50K ultramarathon (Pinnacle Trail Ultra in Newport, NH) and loved it. Pinnacle starts with 13.1 miles on a riverside doubletrack trail, flat and lovely.  It then ascends (and descends) two little mountains.  I came in at 6:30 and third in my age group, and like a fish-monkey, I was hooked. After that I unsuccessfully chased a Boston qualifier at three marathons (Baystate, Raleigh Rock-n-Roll, and Maine Coast) never feeling that love I felt as I ran on the trails at Pinnacle. I was also neglecting my bike, big time. My mountain bike is growing cobwebs. But I got in to Wakely and so Wakely was my focus and so I had to concentrate on spending my time on trails.

Biggest issues with me are mostly mental. Anyone who does any sport knows what this monkey is saying. And unless you are devoid of human emotion you understand that we are our worst critics always, and more often disappointed post-race in our “performance” than pleased as punch in our accomplishment. This has been my bugaboo. That, and so, so competitive. I hate that I am slow, even if I do get to smell the roses. It makes me think back to high-school track (average) and cross country (average) and field hockey (below average) and gym class (no flexibility).  With trail races though, it “feels” less disappointing, because the best part of being out on the trail is being out on the trail. In my training runs, often harder than the events themselves, I beat myself up over my wimpiness, my lethargic short legs, my lack of umph up hills, my ease and giving in. On the other hand, I also know that I endure. I endure and endure. This is a trait shared by many ex-smokers and ex-partyers and drunks. Dude, we are so willing to put up with shit. We got stuff done with raging hangovers. We showed up despite messed up priorities and severe self-pity. That whole former drunk thing is for another post. But let’s just say that being one gave me some skills that have come in handy as a trail monkey. I know how to not stop, to keep going, even if I walk, I walk with purpose.

This is what Wakely is, in a nutshell:  I woke up at 3:15 a.m. on Saturday, picked through my laid-out clothes and gear while letting my oatmeal get mushy (Tom heated me water the night before and put it in a thermos.) I popped an Airborne into a bottle of water. I peanut-buttered a bagel. I gathered my crap, threw on a hoodie, and crossed the campground to another site where a couple of guys were also getting up to go up to Piseco Airport, where we would pick up the bus to Wakely Dam. Once on the bus, I sat window-seat on the left to look out the window into the dark. Another runner I had met the night before at the dinner sat next to me and we talked dogs. I asked his anticipated finish and he said, “I don’t know, I have to wait until five miles in before I decide on pace” and when he said that, and just by looking at him, I guessed he would be long done before I crossed the line. “Have an awesome race!” I said, and grinned, and meant it. My whole plan was to get as alone as possible. I don’t like running with other people. I am a very social person (it is forced, from a childhood of eterneal geekiness and shyness overcome by being weird and dorky and as friendly as possible, like a monkey) but I don’t’ talk when I run. I also worry too much about other runners and whether I slow them down or run too fast. Especially on trail. Tom, who loves his monkey, is extremely understanding about this and knows me very well. He will run ahead and come back and scoop me up in a return. It took awhile but I love running with him, now, even though he is so fast and I am jealous of his fasty fastiness. But good, I think, because competitive monkey needs to chase.

Out here at Wakely, I have no Tom to chase. He is too smart to run more than 15 miles. After 15 miles, the body is like, why, why whyyyyyyyy. Some of us like this. I like this. Tom does not. But he has been game and has run many 15+ mile training runs with me. So, he has not signed up for Wakely and I am not sure where he is when I am at mile 16 but he is definitely on my mind. He is saying, in my head, “just keep going. Don’t stop. Walk when you eat. Walk fast, with purpose.” What’s funny is he wouldn’t say it that way. He’d just say, “pfft, stop? Why would you stop? It’s a RACE!” Or something like that. But in my monkey head, he is Coach Tom, and he is saying in a very coach-y voice, things like, “be the trail. Own the trail.  Eat the trail.”  All I know is I paid good money to be here, and I’d better freaking run when I can run.

So back to the race.  The bus drops us at Wakely Dam, and I run over to the rustic outhouses and stand in line. In line, I meet the sandal guy (he ran last year and this year in a pair of thin Keen sandals) and we talked about the Lake Placid marathon and gravel. Even though he has gray hair, he has the air of a 12 year old boy. Ultramarathoners tend to be like that. They haven’t lost that joy of just being outside.  In too short a time, we are hustled over to get a group photograph at the dam, and then before we know it, we start, up a dirt road and into the forest.

The first miles were quiet. I felt the weight of my pack. It felt good, actually. By this time, I had trained a lot in it and knew although it was sluggish, it didn’t bounce and carried all of the things that made me happy. Like a big security blanket. A bottle of water with NUUN on one boob, a filtration bottle (Katydyn), empty (cuz why carry water when I’m just going to filter stream water with it?) on the other; a full 1.5 bladder (leaking down my shorts) on my back; a tiny first aid kit just in case, a tiny folded up emergency poncho, a clif bar, two bags of homemade GORP (salted raisins, peanut butter pretzels, peanut m&ms, figs, walnuts), a KIND bar, a poptart in its wrapper, extra NUUN tablets, a slim jim end left over from a training run, some bandaids, a lucky feather. No phone. Forgot the compass and map. I am trusting the trail markers (inadvisable, but then, there are 66 others out there with me, and one main trail with blue discs…)  For 6 miles of the first forgiving, easy, pine-needle covered single-track, I am running behind a young spritely girl with a blonde ponytail under a jaunty orange kerchief who is elusive and faster than me, and a guy with an Angry Birds jersey on who has hair whipped up just like an angry bird and who, it turns out, I am maybe a little faster than. I use him to keep my pace going out slow, but pass him when the trail opens a little. I do not catch up with the kerchiefed sprite.  Chasing her, I notice I am alone and not seeing any blue discs, anywhere. I run down a long hill. No blue discs. The trail narrows. No blue discs. I wonder if I should stop. No stopping. I stop. I turn around. I look for blue discs going the other way. No discs. I start running back up the hill. I see a couple of guys (not Angry Bird, who must have gotten passed again) and ask. I am on the right trail, says Mike, a veteran. I thank him and bolt back down the trail. For the next few miles, it’s just me again, and I finally see some blue discs. At that point I slow to a walk to eat real food (not GU).  I basically alternated GU on the hour (half a package) and NUUN with real food on the half hour.  Systematically. Like a monkey-robot. Beep! Eat a GU. Beep! Eat some food. Real food. Thank god for GORP. My stomach cooperated nicely and everything felt like a well oiled monkey-machine. EXCEPT. Monkeys are sloppy sometimes, and one of my half eaten GU packages went upside down in my vest and was GUing up the entire left side of my self. But, no stopping. I fished for the GU and it wouldn’t come out of the pocket, so I grabbed a leaf in passing and slapped it on the pack over the GU-glue, and it stuck. Problem solved. Smart monkey.

The miles ticked by. A really gorgeous trail. It got harder, more technical, but I felt pretty good because in training, we did all that. We did mud, water crossings, rocky eroded trail, narrow grassy overgrown missing-disc trails, shale, hot no-shade days, mountains, boring riverside flats. Tom was in my head just ahead, his orange jersey and green sneaks plopping along through the washed out swampyness of mile 11. If he can do it I can do it I thought like a child-monkey, and then laughed, because he wasn’t doing it, I WAS.  I passed some more guys. I was anxious because I wasn’t passing any girls, and that made me kind of pissed, because why were they faster than me? Well, they just are. The guys I was passing did not look like really super fast guys but I still felt a little chuffed passing them, if only to get the trail to myself again for a few miles. I passed some hikers and the guy goes “You are in the top 55” and I was like, uh, out of 68ish? I’d better get a move on.

There are no aid stations at Wakely Dam ultra. They joke that there is beer at Aid Station #1 (the finish.) This section of the NLP trail is in one of the remotest sections of the Adirondacks.  As I ran, I thought that there are not many folks who get to see this. There are us crazy ultra monkeys and there are through-hikers, and that is about it.  If I get hurt, if I can’t finish, there is no paddy wagon. You go in one end, out the other. Unsupported.  No whiners. So in my head, I’m like, keepmovingkeepmovingkeepmovingkeepmoving. No camera to take pictures of very pretty very remote swamp or rising sun in the mist or flowy singletrack or selfie going SEE? I AM DOING THIS! Just movingmovingmoving as it all flows by. I walk the ups but it is walking with a purpose and I multi-task. I eat, drink, or when given the chance, fill my filter bottle on the fly (I filled it three times and drank every last drop.) My feet are coated in diaper creme (it works) under Injini toe socks and black all purpose CVS diabetes knee-socks, and they keep getting wet but I am not worried, I keep moving. My digestion is happening correctly but I only need to pee once, and do so (stopped) behind a tree, quickly getting back on trail and movingmovingmoving. The trail goes up, down, up, down, up, down during miles 16-22, relentlessly. I pass a couple of guys. “Nice pace!” one yells. Monkey machine. My head is all weird old Cars tunes, memories from out of nowhere, birds’ eye view imagined of my route (which I saw Tuesday after hiking up Snowy Mountain, which overlooks the very wilderness I had run just days before) and math problems. Actually, they got annoying and slowed me down some. The day got warmer.  As rumored, there was an impromptu Aid station (family of a runner hiked in 17 miles with water, candy bars and motivational signage) and it went by like it was happening to someone else. Oh, this happened last year according to someone’s blog was my thought. Thoroughly out-of-body. It was in no way weird to me that this Dad guy and Mom lady were 17 miles into the wilderness at a lean-to offering me Kit-Kats and telling me “more than halfway there!” I ran on.

I had also read (and did my homework) that the last 10ish miles were all downhill. This was good in my head. Mike, a guy we ate dinner with who has run this many times before, warned that the last 8 miles were rock wash and root, albeit downhill. So I was prepared. Because this is what Rhode Island trail is all about. RHODE ISLAND REPRESENT! I pulled out my pocket Killian Jornet (soooo glad I watched that video of him blowing down the side of a rocky hill at Western States) and bombed down hill after hill, falling twice (and yes, bloodied that knee again.) Uphills became “walk breaks” between wild flies down long, rocky dry streambeds. I ate my last GU and was suddenly thirsty all the time. I was at mile 25. My watch threatened low-battery mutiny. I felt awesome. Watch gave at mile 26 and so I started counting. This was not as machine-easy as the watch beeping at me, and I also lost count and had to start over a lot, resulting in some weird moments of out-of-body trail chicanery, unsure how many miles had gone by and whether this thing would ever freaking end. Doug, the RD, had said to look for the Piseco XC ski path and not take that but take the SECOND one where he placed a blue ribbon. After the first Piseco XC sign (it was flat again, so I was waning on the euphoria front) it seemed eons, EONS! before any sign of a second… so long that I thought surely I had missed it, and then, finally, finally, the little blue ribbon. I was nearing the finish. The re-route took us along a never-used XC ski double track with knee-high grasses and swampy(?!) grabby reeds and prickers. Ah fuck. In the last mile? Rilly? Siriusly? But whatever. I though, oh gosh, I just completely wasted an awesome run worrying about being on schedule and it just went by and now it is almost over.  I was a little sad. Until I got to the airport, and was to follow a marker string along (but not ON, not really near) the runway. Through uneven, uncut meadow grass, something I had not really trained on, on a big open field, with a slate, hot sky above and little tiny figures moving way off in the distance at the finish line. Okay, I thought, just put your head down and run. You are almost done. I chugged along. Tom said that at this point he could see me in the distance and even though he had no idea what I was wearing when I left the tent that morning, he told RD Kim, “that’s number 33. I know her… stride.” (because I waddle.)  I looked up to see RD Doug on a mountain bike by some orange cones and am momentarily confused because JUST ACROSS THE RUNWAY is a small crowd yelling and waving at me.  I make a gesture, like, do I cross the runway? And they are like, NO! NO! and point at Doug. I run to Doug as he rides around a big hoop of orange cones. Okay, I think, this is one of those sucky-through-the-parking-lot-to-add distance things… I can do this. And they are watching me so I’d better damn well run. No stopping. I chug, waddle, monkey plunge up the grassy last stretch to the finish line. First thing I hear from Kim is “congratulations! You finished!” and then to Tom, “she’s your problem, now.” I laughed. Someone gave me water. I walked and walked, past the finish, Tom beside me, kept walking, no stopping.

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Me three days after Wakely Dam Ultra, at the summit of Snowy Mountain, overlooking the Cedar Ponds wilderness where I had not stopped.

 

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