(One of the best movie scenes ever, which inspired my best Halloween costume ever-the "Gutterballs" scene/dream sequence in The Big Lebowski. I'm not a fan of musical interludes unless it's as wildly fantastic as this.)
I've spent a lot of this winter bitching about the cold. I know it hasn't been as cold as it can be in other places, I need to toughen up, blah blah blah. But, that said-it was pretty freaking cold, snowy, icy-just plain yucky-a lot of the time. To be fair, the few folks I knew who did make a point to get out seemed to be able to log nowhere near what they would have liked to be doing, and often seemed to be getting hurt slogging out there. This was the polar opposite, quite literally, of last winter, when there was minimal snow, mild temperatures ruled, and I was able to log long runs every weekend in preparation for the Moab RedHot 55K, and later the Desert RATS 50 miler.
A year later, though, my long runs were looking pretty sparse and lame. I'd managed to amass one 4-hour photorun/hike, and participated in the s#it show that was the Bangs Canyon 30K, in which I had the dubious distinction of being one of several runners who should've known better, but managed to get dehydrated and not eat enough. This was hardly looking like the kind of training I needed for 34 miles.
In the two weeks prior, I was very, very close to not doing the long course in Moab. The 33K was an option, and I had all but decided to downshift to that. I'd been having a pinchy hip issue, and figured there was just no way I was going to be able to get through 55K without considerable misery. Most running friends said do whatever you feel, but I had the one who said "You're doing Leadville, why wouldn't you do the 55K? Just treat it as a training run." There had been a tiny, nagging voice in my head, and he was pretty much articulating what that voice was saying. With that, somehow my perspective changed from "this is going to be a shitty death march" to "Oh....you're right. A training run! In beautiful Moab!" It wasn't going to be a PR kind of day, and in deciding to stick with the 55K, I knew it likely meant a PW (personal worst) kind of day. But, there was freedom in taking that pressure off, and just doing the long course just for the sake of enjoyment and training.
Heading down to Moab, I was prepared to have the race suck at some point, and was ready to embrace the suck. I had also embraced the "if you can't be well-trained, at least you can be well-rested" mantra. I rested my tweaky hip for several days pre-race, and actually hadn't even done a long run the week prior, instead pouring myself into other work and pressing matters. This could've been a terrible idea, but I found myself with very good energy levels as I rolled into town with friends on Friday. With this being my fourth time at the event, and it being a pretty chill deal in general, I just seemed to be in a "whatever-it's all good" mindset.
This carried right over into the next day, and I showed up at the starting line ready to enjoy myself. I headed out with my friend Jen, whom I've known for years after "meeting" her on the various RWOL forums. We were kind of in the same shape today-not trained up like we'd like to be, but enough endurance that we'd probably be able to pull off a slow run today. Climbing the first hill, I felt my first hint of optimism that today might not suck when I realized we'd chatted all the way up the hill right off the start, and wasn't dying. I felt pretty fan-freaking-tastic, actually. My watch was on but I had no plans to really look at it much.
We made our way from the four-mile cutoff up to the right and began the 14-mile loop that would eventually come back and join the route the 33K runners would take straight through. This is actually the easier part of the entire route, which made it a great first ultra for me in 2011 after completing the 33K in 2010. Jen and I had not planned to run side by side, but it was just working out today that we were sticking together through the first ten miles. You know you're probably feeling decent if you're able to spend time catching up with someone, and not thinking "gawd, when is this hell going to be over?" I used this energy to just stay in the moment and not even allow myself to worry or think ahead. Eventually, Jen started pulling away, but I didn't really feel "alone." It was a gorgeous day out here. The stress of my impending divorce and all its implications have been weighing heavily on me, but today, it didn't matter. I felt light-buoyant, even.
Continuing around the loop, I had a weird mental break and thought I had to make it to the 18-mile cutoff by noon rather than 12:30. This caused me to push myself a little harder around miles 13-16. By then, I realized I had plenty of time, even if the cutoff had been noon. In a way, this little snafu was a good thing. The little surge got me down the trail a bit faster, and was a good diversion in the middle of the race.
Coming down the hill to the cutoff, it was like sliding through wet cement. I should've been flying through this, as a strong downhiller, but it was just sloppy. I made it past the cutoff, and instantly felt a bit lighter. That was the only bit of pressure hanging over my head today; worry about getting pulled from the course for getting to the cutoff too slowly. Now began the climb.
The next handful of miles consist mainly of relentless climbs, and up-and-down, banking stretches of slick rock. I remember how much I dreaded it the first year; I've gotten more used to this kind of thing, though, and actually enjoy it more now. I moved along, talking to folks, sharing miles with people here and there. Aid station #4 came along, and I felt pretty good. I was fully expecting to run out of fuel at some point, and was embracing that idea of pain, whenever it came. I was getting tired, but that pain was nowhere to be found. It was a spectacularly gorgeous day-probably the best weather I'd experienced here. I looked around and felt truly lucky to be able to complete such an event, and to be in Moab with like-minded people who just GET IT, no explanations necessary.
I hit the last aid station, fueled up, and with that, I realized that yep, it was happening today, and yep, I was wise to listen to my own voice, and that one friend who gave me the little push toward the 55K. I surely would've run a more competitive time in the 33K, but it would have been totally inside my comfort zone with no room for growth. This, today, was a much scarier proposition, and now I was so thankful I'd gone ahead with the "scary" thing. I wasn't sure what kind of condition I'd be in at the end of this race, but I definitely didn't think it would be this good.
Late in the race, I started focusing on two things to get me through. One, being able to tell my kids that mom didn't wimp out, and made it all the way through. The other was to try to get in before awards started. Our friend Kevin won this race last year, and I knew he'd be a contender again. Our friend Marty had a tough day here last year on the long course but was running the 33K this year, and in good shape for it. I wanted to push along to get in with enough time to see the awards ceremony, and see if they, or other folks I knew, had nabbed hardware. This mindset worked great through about mile 30. By then, I started to get REALLY tired. To think, though, that I was still enjoying myself-this was AWESOME. Again, I felt light on my feet, even if they were moving along very slowly now.
Coming down the series of rocky switchbacks toward the finish, I was excited. It was looking like I was going to run a personal worst, but by mere minutes off my first run here, when I was well-trained. In being realistic, and finding an even level of effort appropriate to the way the winter had gone, I was getting it done. Making the last turn and heading in to the finish, I figured I'd missed awards, but it was all good. I came across the line and the friends started to wander over. It seemed that everyone had really enjoyed themselves-my race roommates Jason and "Mr. Pants (John Bagge, AKA Bagge Pants)" had a good time out there, and Jen had kept on trucking along, finishing about forty minutes ahead of me.
And, I hadn't missed awards after all, and was able to catch all that action. In a bit of a reversal from last year, Kevin had gone out balls-out, racing with a lead pack that broke the course record, only to blow up and drop back to 12th overall. It was a gutsy run but just didn't pan out today the way it did a year ago with his perfectly executed race a year prior. Marty, who blew up 20-something miles into the 55K last year, knocked out a rock-solid 33K this time around, and came in 2nd Master and 9th overall in a loaded field. Just goes to show that no matter your level, pace, or experience as a runner, we all have good days and bad days. You don't throw in the towel after the bad days, and you celebrate when a good day and good race comes together.
Since then, I've been trying to take that confidence I got in finishing this year's RedHot, and channel it toward my ultimate goal this year-completing the Leadville Trail 100 under the 30 hour time limit. Between lack of funds, feeling under-trained in the early season, and, well, lack of funds, I'd planned to skip the Desert RATS Trailrunning Festival, or else just do the 25 Miler. Well, sometimes circumstances intervene in a good way. My boss at my part-time job in a chiropractic clinic in town is a huge supporter of our running and triathlon community, to the point where one of my employment benefits is allotments toward entries in local and regional races. Besides that, he likes to get active and involved in races. Talking about the Desert RATS event, we figured out that we both wanted to run (he's doing the half), and I got him contact information for the race director to look into having a booth there. Well, due to permits, he can't do a booth, but the race director said he'd comp us entries for working aid stations. Me? Happy dance! That's a $110 entry fee, covered for helping out others. And, rather than living in 25-mile Comfort Zone Land, I'm going to embrace the pain that might await me in the 50. It probably won't kill me and it sure as hell will make me stronger. And that is a good thing going into Leadville and beyond.