St. George Marathon 2017 Race Report

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I am The Trail Snail. I (slowly) roam the dirt and mud, the rock, dust and sand. My natural habitat is covered in pine, or sagebrush, or quaking aspen, or cactus.

But each year, near the end of summer, I return to the pavement where my running began, and I train for the St. George Marathon. I confess that I don’t train much on pavement. Probably not enough. But I do the requisite long runs on pavement. Usually at least 16, 18 & 20 miles. I fill in the rest of my training on the trail.

There are many reasons this road marathon draws an avowed trail runner back each year. To give you some idea, let me just describe this year:

This year’s poster

1- Expo. Awesome. Bought some stuff, got a cool poster of runners sitting around the bonfires at the start line. More on that later. Packet pickup is always smoooooth.

2- Family. My husband’s parents live in St. George, so we stay with them and they wake us up and feed us and take care of us. This year my daughter, granddaughter and brand new son-in-law came along for the ride, so that was even more cool.

3- Organization. Things go wrong, even at the St. George Marathon, but compared to every other event I have been a part of, the planning and organization are amazing. Too organized? Being herded like cattle into buses is not a bad thing, is it? Hmmm…

4- Start line. Flags line the starting area from all the nations represented at the event. Dozens of giant bonfires have runners collected around them. The start line is chilly. Usually I stay clear of the bonfires to save my lungs, but I’ve been running for weeks in smoke due to wildfires, so this year I figure it won’t make much difference. The bonfires are wonderful. I rotate, toasting each side like a marshmallow. It is cold enough that most runners start out with some spare clothes that they drop at the first six mile markers. I always do this, because for all my outdoorsiness, I’m a pretty big baby about cold.

5- Downhillish. The start line is at 5,243 feet. The finish line is at 2,678 feet. Awesome, right? Until about mile 7, when you reach Veyo, which is the name of a town and a dormant volcano. Volcanoes are usually hills. If I could get an adrenaline boost for every time I’ve overheard a runner saying, “I thought this was a DOWNHILL marathon!” Veyo Hill would be much easier. From Veyo Hill until about the halfway point, there is a lot of uphill. Not crazy, but still…

Nevertheless, numbers don’t lie, and you drop A TON! If you run St. George without training for downhill, your legs will be very cross with you for a few days.

6- THE SCENERY. If you want to run through city streets, this is not the run for you. Here you will find domes that look like ice cream topped with whipped cream… chocolate ice cream, and strawberry ice cream, and raspberry ice cream and caramel ice cream. When you were a kid, did you obsessively sort your crayons by color? If so, imagine your set of 200 crayolas and just as the light blue turns to darker blue, all the way through the purples and the magentas and the reds and rusts and oranges and all the pinks, and all those hard-to-sort browns… those are the colors of the St. George Marathon. Vegetation is almost non-existent, but you really don’t need green with all those other colors. Far in the distance jaggedy blue peaks stand as a backdrop. The beauty of the St. George Marathon is not something that is easy to describe, or even capture in photos. You have to see the sun coming up, angling over a landscape that could be on any world… but it’s right here, on Earth!

7- The volunteers. So many volunteers, so nice. After halfway, there are even volunteers waiting to rub Icy Hot on your legs. Each aid station (and there are seventeen) has huge numbers of volunteers. St. George is a pretty small city, but somehow they find hundreds of energetic and spirited people willing to get up long before the crack of dawn and hand water to complete strangers.

8- THE SPECTATORS. The St. George Marathon is run almost entirely down SR-18, a two-lane state highway running through some relatively inaccessible land. Does this stop the incredible spectators that line long sections of said road? NOPE! People living in remote ranch homes blast Queen from loudspeakers. Adorable kids hold out their hands for high fives (kids, I hope you wash before you eat). A trio of white-haired ladies in pink dish gloves with flowered cuffs offer FREE BUTT SLAPS. Of course I got a free butt slap. Wouldn’t you? This is all before you even reach town, and then ALL the streets are lined. Kids hand out otter pops and popsicles. Spectators hold up signs that make me laugh… or cry. I can get pretty emotional twenty four miles into a marathon. With about a mile to go, there are wash cloths in ice water! I can wipe off all the sweat and Gatorade/otter pop/popsicle drool!

The finish line is lined with screaming, clapping, cowbell-clanging spectators. The voices and the energy carry me to the finish line with a last burst of adrenaline.

9- The finisher’s medal. The finisher’s medal is a disc of smooth red rock, a year-round reminder of the beauty of the St. George landscape. Each medal is unique. Each medal is beautiful.

So. There you have it. This year, I get to see my daughter, son-in-law and toddler granddaughter just before the finish line. After I stop to say hi, my daughter says, “Go! Kick it!”

So I do. I finish with a big kick and a big smile. After the finish, I see a tunnel of spraying water. I take off my sunglasses and walk through. I collect my medal, two bottles of chocolate milk, a lemony fresh washcloth, and an orange Creamies. And some potato chips, barbecue and regular. We learn that my granddaughter loves barbecue potato chips.

The drop bag pickup goes so smoothly that a volunteer is holding out my bag before I even get to him, but the clothing drop is not too organized this year. After a brief attempt to retrieve a jacket I dropped at mile 4, I give up. I never drop clothing that I can’t bear to lose, so it’s not a big deal. Besides, the clothing will be cleaned up and donated.

A Gandalf misquote

I get a new second quick time, by just a few seconds. My husband B misses a PR by just a few seconds. He’s pretty bummed, thinking of where he could have trimmed that few seconds, but overall, we both had really good days.

The next day, as we drive home, the weather turns bad. It starts to rain. Some of the rain looks ominously white. The temperature drops about thirty degrees by the time we reach home. That’s the other thing about the St. George Marathon. At home, summer is over. In St. George, I get an extra weekend of summer. A little extension. A day of running in the sun in temperatures that are almost too hot.

So, don’t worry, St. George Marathon. I’ll be back.

Hawaii Spartan Trifecta Weekend 2017 Race Report

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As a little girl, I daydreamed. A lot. Instead of paying attention in school, I would stare out a window, or at a wall, or at Mrs. Farmer’s gray hair, and dream. In my dreams, I could leap like a deer. I could clear a fence and hit the ground running. I could climb a tree like a squirrel and leap to a rooftop.

Now I do Spartan races. Coincidence? I think not.

 

The road to Hawaii was a long one.

And there was also that plane ride.

But I’m talking about the other road… the metaphorical road. Or symbolic or figurative, whatever you call it. I’m talking about the training, the planning, the financing, and the training. The major family events (two babies!!) that postponed the trip for a whole year. And the training.

In case you don’t know about Spartan races, or confuse them with the Spartan Ultimate Team Challenge that you may have seen on television (same organization, totally different race) let me explain:

Spartan races come in four distances: Sprint (3-5 miles, 20-23 obstacles), Super (8-10 miles, 24-29 obstacles), Beast (12-14 miles, 30-35 obstacles), and Ultra Beast (run the Beast course twice). One of the goals of Spartan racers, after #1-not dying, and #2-finishing, is to complete the three distances in a calendar year, earning your Spartan Trifecta. The Beast and/or Ultra Beast both count as a Beast for Trifecta purposes.

Some athletes complete several Trifectas every year, but my husband B and I have made it our goal to complete at least one Trifecta each year. The necessity of travel to races puts some constraints on us, plus we don’t want to lose the childlike joy that the races give us. No, that was not sarcasm.

Last year, we planned to go to Oahu for the Spartan Trifecta weekend. This was a convenient, and certainly beautiful,  opportunity to get our Trifecta in a single weekend! Our younger daughter was expecting her first child in June, so the August race date would be about right for our mutual comfort levels.

So, let’s do this!

As my cursor hovered over the airline “PURCHASE” button, someone knocked at our front door.

We are generally anti-social and don’t get many visitors, so we gave each other “that” look. The look that says, “I don’t want to get it, YOU get it.”

B got it. As soon as he saw our daughter and son-in-law, he knew they were coming to announce their pregnancy. I’m a little slower, but I got it eventually, after it was clearly explained.

Their baby was due in August.

 

So. One year and two granddaughters later (TOTALLY WORTH IT!!!!!) we start planning again. We irritate both daughters by making them confirm repeatedly that they are not pregnant before we book every little thing.

I suspect that completing all three race distances in two days will be the most challenging physical feat of my life. I’ve done some difficult things. I’ve run through rain and snow and ice and limb-sucking mud. I’ve fallen hard on my ribs and made it two miles back to my car while my ribs clicked with each step. I’ve made it ten miles with an open gash bleeding from my elbow.

The previous year we completed the Seattle Beast on Saturday and the Seattle Sprint on Sunday. I recalled the full body pain on Saturday night. I couldn’t sleep because of the aches. And I couldn’t sleep because in the morning I had to get up and do it again.

This will be the same, except the courses are said to be much harder, and we are running the Super distance on Sunday morning, and the Sprint on Sunday afternoon. That is, if we complete the Super on time…

 

Spartan races begin with a rousing starting chute speech. As if we need to be pumped up any more. My heart is already pounding long before our final “AROO” fades away. Almost immediately, I’m plunged into a slippery, cooling stream. Then the climbing begins. The climbing is broken by a few walls, a five foot, a couple of six foot, then a seven. I’m relieved to start running again, with no other walls in sight. Next are some Spartan standards, the Atlas Carry and the Bucket Brigade. As I start up the outrageously steep hill with my bucket full of rocks, I see B just reaching the end. We are running separately today, and together tomorrow. I holler and wave like a fool until he sees me. That’s the last I see of him for many hours.

The uphill continues. I pass Jurassic Park Gate and across the valley I see King Kong’s skeleton littering the hillside. Yes, this place has been the star of several movies.

After the monkey bars and the beginning of the memory test (remember a word and a series of numbers for many miles and seven obstacles) I reach the jungle. Really. Real jungle, with vines and water, slimy mud, and heavy foliage that completely blocks out the sun. My pace slows to a literal crawl in many places. Some of the slopes are so slippery that ropes have been strung from trees uphill, but the ropes are so covered with mud that they slide from your hands. Groups of people are trying to get up, struggling for every step. I finally go around, using the trees and vines to pull myself up through the jungle alongside the trail and pass the slimy groups. It’s thick and scratchy, but at least I make progress.

In this jungly, slow and slimy section, which lasts about five miles, the obstacles come as welcome breaks. There are some heavy carries, two with logs and one with tires. There is a very muddy Z-wall where I am convinced that only my bouldering training at the climbing gym saved me. Both feet slipped off but I held on with my fingertips until I could get my feet secure again. After I ring the bell, I realize I’ve torn the palm of my hand, which presents a challenge for the rest of race.

There is the hardest Tyrolean Traverse I’ve done so far. That’s a rope strung horizontally across the ground. As you move along the rope, it sags under your weight so that you must climb in order to reach the bell. There is the first of two barbed wire crawls and an eight foot wall. I pass my memory test and start to run downhill. Downhill!! Not for too long, but the jungle seems to be slipping behind me now and the going is much easier, even if it is still mostly uphill. I start running with some Ultra Beast racers. I’m able to keep up only since it’s their second loop. A lot of people are walking now, blocking the singletrack, but they’re letting the Ultra racers pass, so I just tuck in behind them.

Next I face a couple of obstacles I’ve never tried before, The Bender and The Twister. The Bender is made of pipes starting about six feet off the ground and slanting overhead so that you have to climb awkwardly over the top while you’re pretty far off the ground. Then The Twister. I’ve watched videos of this one, mostly of people falling off before reaching halfway, and that’s what most people are doing now.

“Go backwards,” someone yells. I go backwards. Nope, that is not working. I swing around and go forward, grabbing the pipe as it twists downward. I hear a voice, “you’ve got it! All day! All day!” I don’t know what that means, but it is very motivating. I make the halfway transition and I start to slow down. I’ve been skipping a section each time (watch a video of it, it’s really hard to explain) and now I slow to a stop. The voice is still yelling. I start going, not skipping anymore, just going, until there is suddenly a bell in front of me. I slam it with unnecessary force and drop to the ground, celebrating like I just won the lottery. I yell a ‘thank you’ to the voice, and start running. I was worried about that one. So far I’ve run clean, completing every obstacle without the dreaded thirty burpee penalty.

There are some more Spartan staples, the second barbed wire crawl, the Hercules Hoist, and the most brutal sandbag carry I’ve every done. The sandbag carry is usually pretty easy, but I know I’ve just been lucky and that some are even harder than this one. This sandbag is heavier than I’m used to, and the course goes up and down three hills. The course is littered with bodies and sandbags. I put my sandbag on one shoulder, then the other shoulder, then I carry it with both arms like I carry the bucket. I put it down, gasp for air for a minute, pick it up. Ugh. Finishing is such a relief. I try to ignore that horrible voice in my head that reminds me I have to do this twice tomorrow.

Next is the Plate Drag. Then the Spear Throw. I approach the Spear Throw with a sinking feeling. Funeral music is playing in my head. No, it’s fine! I practice all the time!!

Okay, I miss ninety percent of the time. Even at home. Key the funeral music.

This Spear Throw looks longer than usual. B later agrees that it is. Maybe that’s why my throw is about five feet short. I walk to the burpee area after a small, inappropriate outburst which is being echoed all around me. There’s a reason they call it the burpee maker. I can hear the festival area as I do my burpees. The festival area is obstacle heavy, since that’s the easiest place for spectators to watch. The burpees are wearing me out and I’m thinking of the Olympus and the multi-rig and the rope climb. Then I give myself a mental slap and remember my training. I’ve worked SO HARD. Burpees are nothing, I do them all the time. I finish up and start running. I’m almost done and I’m going to run clean the rest of the way!!!

I hope.

As I run down into the festival area, I hear someone yelling my name. I see B standing at the fence and I run over to give him a high five and say some incoherent, adrenaline-filled words.

Then I run to the dreaded Olympus. The Olympus is also hard to explain, it’s basically a slanted board with varied grips for your hands, including chains and climbing grips and holes cut in the board. To get through, you have to keep your feet off the ground and traverse the board, using your choice of hand grips, to the bell. The one I pick is muddy already, but I climb up, trusting my Salomon’s to give me some grip. In Seattle, this thing about killed me. I failed it on the Beast and barely made it through on the Sprint by smacking the bell as I was falling, hitting it just before my feet touched the ground.

So, yeah, I’ve been worried about it. I start moving. I’ve been climbing, these grips are familiar. I can hear B shouting. I’m moving at a steady pace, OMG I’M MOVING AT A STEADY PACE. B is shouting, his voice is echoing my own excitement. I finish easily, slamming the bell so hard I’m surprised it stays put.

Again, lottery-winning-style celebration.

There is a high bridge thing that I climb next, it’s not hard but I’m tired, so I go pretty slow. Next is the multi-rig, but it’s not really a multi-rig because instead of a variety of rings and pipes and ropes, it’s only rings. It seems easy, but I’ve learned to never underestimate an obstacle, plus a lot more people are falling off than are completing it.

Huh. It IS easy.

Next up, rope climb. The ropes are new and they seem pretty slippery. They ARE pretty slippery. I struggle up the rope. It seems to take about a hundred pulls, since I’m making very little progress. Only my severe burpee-aversion is keeping me going. I inch up, looking at that far-away bell. One more pull. I reach for the bell… nope. Just one more… got it!!

Now the Inverted Wall and the Fire Jump, that’s it!

The Inverted Wall has always been easy for me, but it’s never been at the very end of a grueling Beast. I struggle over it, every muscle saying noooooo! Video of me going over the top would probably be very amusing and embarrassing, but I don’t think any exists, so I don’t care. Then I run. Run!!! Jump over the fire and run over the finish line. I forget every bit of exhaustion and pain, at least for a moment, as a medal is hung on my neck.

B finished more than an hour before me, running entirely clean!

The Beast was 34 obstacles and 13 miles. Tomorrow will be even more. Plans for grilling a steak quickly dissolve into ordering a pizza. We shower and wash our clothes. I take inventory of my bruises and try to clean up the cut on my palm. Then we sleep. I notice, as I drift off, that I don’t feel that horrible pain that I remember from Seattle.

Good. That’s good.

 

In the morning, we get an early start. Our Super start time is 8:30 a.m. and we need to complete it to make our Sprint start at 1:15 p.m.

We run together, which makes it fun. We’re pretty fatigued at the start, but we start feeling better as we go. B slips in the stream near the beginning and slams his shin pretty hard, but after walking for a bit he seems to be okay. We climb all the walls and get to the bucket brigade. I’m not too excited about doing this again, and it dawns on me that my training didn’t include enough heavy carries. I make a mental note to fix that. I struggle up the steep hill, resting several times. I struggle down the steep hill, resting once. B is waiting at the bottom. We run for a bit until we reach the Monkey Bars, then continue for a while before we realize we are approaching The Bender already.

“We bypassed the whole jungle!” I tell B.

“No, really?”

“Yes!”

We are thrilled about this. It was fun and challenging, but exhausting. We knew this course was shorter, but it didn’t occur to us that we weren’t going to struggle through the jungle at all.

So we are feeling good. We complete The Bender and The Twister, crawl through barbed wire and do the Hercules Hoist and that nasty sandbag carry again.

I’m feeling good about the Spear Throw. I think I can make it. I’m feeling positive. This time I hit the bales of straw, but not hard enough to stick. I don’t even bother swearing. Then B misses his throw.

We do our burpees and head to the festival area. The Super is almost nine miles long, but after completing the longer course yesterday, it seems really short. We’re still feeling good when we complete the Olympus and climb over the bridge. We complete the rig and the rope. Even the inverted wall doesn’t seem too bad today. We jump over the fire together.

We have plenty of time before the Sprint. We have a shaved ice and change our clothes.

My adrenaline is severely depleted in the Sprint starting chute. We’ve completed almost nine miles and twenty-five obstacles so far today, with four miles and twenty obstacles to go. At this point we figure we should finish. That was definitely not guaranteed when we started this thing yesterday, so I try to get excited about this last race.

One challenge with Sprint races is that a lot of people do them. A lot. A lot of people are here because a family member is running the Trifecta, and they’ve decided to do the Sprint. A lot of people do the Sprint that haven’t trained at all. Nothing against them, it’s very brave to sign up for something like this, but it does tend to clog the course up a bit.

We spend a lot of time waiting on singletrack where NOBODY is moving. The trail has become slippery, and without good trail technique, probably pretty scary. Eventually the course widens and everybody is able to run at their own pace. And we do run, surprisingly, for most of the race. This course is much shorter, but many of the difficult obstacles are still here, including the bucket and sandbag carries. The spear throw comes up quickly, and I miss.

I haven’t missed any obstacles, except THREE SPEAR THROWS!!!!

B makes his spear throw and waits while I do burpees.

“How many do you have left?” he asks at one point.

“Eighteen.”

“I got ten of them,” he says.

“No, I got it.”

“For your birthday. It’s a birthday present.”

Did I mention that today is my birthday? His argument seems valid.

“Okay.”

Then we head to the festival area and complete the Olympus, rig and rope climb.

The inverted wall seems impossible. I’m struggling and struggling and just can’t get over it. Finally I get a foot hooked over the top and drag my suddenly very heavy body over. The other side has been baking in the sun and is shockingly hot, so I slide off quickly.

I grab Bs hand and we run for the fire jump, leaping over in unison.

Unlike yesterday, the exhaustion doesn’t slip away, but it doesn’t matter. We did it. Twenty-five miles and 79 obstacles, 5300 feet of elevation gain. B failed one obstacle all weekend. I failed one obstacle each race. It was as difficult as we expected, but our training got us through.

That’s my advice, if you want it. Do the training. Work as hard as you can. Do a wide variety of things so no part of your body gets left behind and your mind doesn’t get bored. Use your body weight and buckets and sandbags and swing from everything you can find. Have fun and pretend you’re a wild kid that can leap over anything.

That’s what we do.

But now we have to find something even harder to do next year.

Aloha!

Pacing the Wasatch 100 – Part 2

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The sun angles below the horizon as we climb. JC is ahead of me, like he has been for most of our run, and I can see by his posture that he’s feeling good. I’m relieved, because for a while he was struggling, though he never told me. I understand. Once you mention the fatigue, the pain, the doubt… you can no longer pretend it’s not there.

But now he’s feeling good. He runs up the hill, a solid pace that I’m scrambling to match. Although we share the same parents, he somehow got almost a foot of height advantage over me, and I swear it’s all in his legs. Fortunately for me, his legs had already been going 33 miles before I joined him, or I would have no chance of keeping up.

As we crest the hill, we can see the Lamb’s Canyon aid station far below us. It looks like a bright little city in the darkening canyon below. It’s not fully dark, not up here, but the temperature dropped with the sun.

“Are you cold? Do you need your jacket?” he asks me.

He’s wearing long sleeves, his foolproof sunscreen, so I don’t think he’s cold, but one thing I learned in the past few hours is that this is not about me. The last thing I’m going to do is ask him to stop right now while he’s on one of the high points of this ultra-marathon roller coaster.

“No, I’m good.”

 

I met KC, my sister-in-law, earlier in the day at our staging point. The aid station at Big Mountain is so small that pacers are asked to wait at the staging area until their runner is approaching. The communication is pretty good, but pretty good for a backcountry 100 miler is not foolproof.

KC has been navigator, mobile aid station and co-planner through all of JC’s adventures. She’s also a skilled cyclist and water skier in her own right, not to mention gourmet chef and amazing mom. And probably other things that I’ll find out by accident one day.

Anyway, when word never comes that JC has reached the final checkpoint before the aid station, volunteers suggest we head up anyway. We have about fifteen minutes to cheer for strangers before we see him coming down the hill.

As we wave goodbye to family and head away from the noise of the aid station, I feel the full weight of my responsibility.

In most of my endeavors, I train and compete alone. Even if I’m with someone else, I’m focused on myself, my hunger, my pain, my thirst, my joy and misery. A month before the Wasatch 100, I helped some co-workers complete their first Spartan Race. This was an entirely new experience for me. It was all about them. I enjoyed my role a lot more than I thought I would.

But this is not the same. I’m not helping JC to experience something I have done. I’m helping him to get through something I can’t even comprehend doing. Ever. Running the Wasatch 100 is a huge endeavor and, of course, the welfare of co-workers isn’t the same as the welfare of my brother. So I worry for a bit, but we fall into a pace and I start to relax.

We climb through old forest, then drop for a while through some meadows. Sometimes we pass runners, sometimes runners pass us. Whenever this happens, my brother starts chatting them up like old friends. Just like my dad would do. The most I can usually muster on the trail is a nod or a good mornin! but here he is, dozens of miles in, having full conversations. One runner he seems to know pretty well. After they finish their conversation and the man heads up the hill ahead of us, I ask JC, “do you know him?”

“Yeah, his name is Rupert* I met him a few miles back.”

(*totally made up name)

Of course! Your old buddy from mile 20!

If you think people can’t change, you are wrong.This tall person running along in front of me used to be an introvert. He also used to be pretty lazy. Both of us were, really. We could waste an entire day trapped in the house avoiding the chores that would have earned our freedom. I would say he’s no longer lazy. I don’t know what happened.

We reach Bald Mountain and I warn him about the tiny horned toads on the mountaintop. He scoops one up to show me, which wouldn’t be that impressive in normal circumstances, but he’s got a lot of miles on his legs. As kids, we spent a lot of time in the summers hunting for lizards and snakes in the brushy hills around our home. I guess he never forgot that lizard-scooping technique from so many years ago.

After we come off of Bald Mountain, we drop for a while, then climb to a ridgeline. We’ll follow this rolling ridgeline for a few miles until we reach an aid station. Somewhere along this section, I notice some tension in his posture, his head drooping a little. He asks me to lead for a while. I lead until we reach the aid station, set in a field of long golden grass. He doesn’t chat much with the volunteers. I get him some broth and he sits in a folding chair. He starts talking to another runner, which makes me feel better, but he also starts looking a little too comfortable. I give him a time limit, which he honors, and we head off again.

For the first time, the trail is wide enough to run side by side. It’s also a long uphill and we walk most of it. We talk a lot. We talk about our kids and our grandkids. He’s wearing a wristband with a bead symbolizing each of his, his good luck charm. We talk about our mom and how proud we are of her. Her mother feared many things, and our mom pushed beyond all those fears, adventuring far beyond her comfort zone. We can probably blame her for the crazy things we do.

Then we’re back to single track, and a final push uphill before the course drops to the next aid station. The sun is starting to set. We pass a few runners and he’s chatting them up again, back to his old self. I’ve never run as far as he is running today (and tomorrow) but I’ve run long enough to know that the bad times always end. So do the good times, but you don’t think about that. Now he’s feeling good. We run down some switchbacks into a dark canyon. We put on our headlamps and I follow him and his light, regretting the baseball cap that is serving to block most of my own headlamp.

I ran this section twice while training, and twice I got lost. JC doesn’t. In the dark, 45 miles in, he takes the correct turn. We make our way up a gravel road to the noise and lights of the aid station. We see a single headlamp, someone standing outside the tent.

My husband, B.

He hugs us and leads us into the tent where he has already retrieved JC’s drop bag.

After a few minutes with the two of them, I have to leave. KC has come to pick me up, and parking at the aid station is not allowed. KC will take me to my Jeep and I will drive to the top of Big Cottonwood Canyon where I plan to sleep for a few hours in the back of the car until it’s time to wait for them at the aid station.

JC is my big brother. He’s older, smarter, and much more athletic. But as I climb a little rise to meet KC, I worry for just a minute. I hope this all goes well, I hope he achieves what he wants. But I know, that at least for this next leg, he’s in good hands.

 

B and JC reach Brighton Ski Resort in the darkest part of the morning. Their leg included cold temperatures, ridiculous vertical, disrespectful foxes and adorable burrowing owls. Oh, and a grilled cheese sandwich, but only for B.

When they reach the aid station, JCs next pacer has not arrived. It turns out there is a marathon going down this canyon on the same day, and runners are coming up the canyon on buses as KC tries to get to the aid station with the pacer! We did not know about this. B can’t continue pacing because he has to get to work. I can’t continue pacing because I’m basically in jammies. We send him off into the dark almost alone (Follow that guy! Go!) and then we just feel bad as we hurry down the canyon minutes before it’s closed for the marathon. His pacer does arrive at the aid station, and with his fresh legs, he’s able to catch JC. They make it to an aid station around the 75 mile mark, but just over the cutoff time.

This, of course, doesn’t dull my pride at all. Or his determination. He is currently training for a 100 miler in Bryce Canyon. My schedule won’t allow me to join him, but rest assured my heart will be there with him for every step.

Pacing the Wasatch 100 – Part 1

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It’s a beautiful September afternoon and we’re somewhere on the top of the world.

“Did you see the horned toads up here on your training run?”

“No,” my brother answers.

“They’re all over here. I hope you didn’t step on any.”

He starts to scan the trail as he runs, and after a minute he stops suddenly and steps off the trail, reaching down to scoop something off the ground.

He turns to show me, a tiny horned toad no bigger than a nickel. It’s exactly the same color as the dust of the hilltop.

“How did you do that?” I ask him, “If I tried to bend down right now I’d probably stay down, and I’m only a few miles in.”

He’s about forty miles in. He shrugs, puts the little lizard back on the ground and starts running.

 

After decades of ridiculous (in my opinion) athletic accomplishments, my brother JC has decided to turn his attention to trail running. His background in running, cycling and triathlon is strong enough that he starts big. The Wasatch Front 100, to be precise. He completes Moab’s Red Hot 55k in February and the Buffalo Run 50 mile on Antelope Island in March. Then he focuses on the Wasatch course, running each segment at least once as part of his training.

He asks my husband and I to each pace a segment with him.

I’m excited about doing this, but very worried. I am The Trail Snail. I’m not fast. I don’t want to do anything that will jeopardize a successful race.

After forcing JC to promise, over and over, that he will leave me on the trail if I’m holding him up, I begin my own training.

My training consists of my usual training, plus completing the leg that I will pace so that I know just what to expect. If there is an easy segment of the Wasatch 100, I got it. Maybe there are more beautiful sections, but I don’t see how.

My husband drops me off at the top of Big Mountain and heads to work. It’s early morning, and I’m in completely unknown territory, armed with maps and a cell phone in case the maps fail me. If the cell phone fails me… well, I just won’t think about that.

I start out in thick old forest. The sun is up, but the sunlight can’t quite make it to the forest floor. It’s a little misty and eerie. Quiet.

“The forest is quiet,” she whispers, “too quiet.”

Oh. Sorry.

Within minutes I come face to face with a beautiful buck. I’m not sure who is more startled, but he vanishes before I can even think to take a picture.

Over the next couple of miles, the forest opens up. Tall old pines give way to meadows and quaking aspen. At one point, a tree has fallen across the trail at just about eye level. JC is much taller than me, so I make a mental note to be sure he doesn’t run into it. I duck under it, but not quite far enough, and I take an ear-ringing blow to the top of my head. I sit down for a minute and wonder if anyone in the world but me could have managed that.

The trail traverses a little below a ridgetop for a while, crossing it now and then, and then climbs to the top of Bald Mountain. Bald Mountain is pretty bald, as the name suggests. There are no trees, just scrubby grass and sage. This is where I start to see horned toads. This is also where the sky starts to darken. Just a little. Not too bad.

Now the trail is like a roller coaster. Climb a hill, drop down. Climb a hill, drop down, all following a ridgeline.

One range over, the clouds have become serious. It’s what I call a Jacob’s Ladder storm. If you’ve heard the song of that name by Rush, you will know exactly what I mean.

At first I try to ignore the flashes of lightning and the booming thunder. It’s still far away. I’ll be off this ridge long before it makes it clear over here.

Actually, it doesn’t take long. At all. I see lightning… one-one hundred, two-one hundred, three-one hundred… I make it to twelve before the thunder comes. Good. No problem.

I run as fast as I can over the next hilltop and head downhill. Lightning… one-one hundred, two… HOLY S*%T!

I drop to my toes, wrap my arms around my knees and huddle as low as I can, careful not to let anything but my shoes touch the ground. I don’t know if that really works, but I am alive, so… maybe? The storm hits me seconds later and pummels me for a few minutes. The thunder surrounds me, becomes part of me, vibrates through my bones and chatters my teeth.

Then it begins to move away. The rain continues, but when you’re already soaked, it really makes no difference. I drop from the ridgetop onto an area covered in long yellow grass. I find a rough sign on the ground that makes me think this is the future aid station. At this point I get kind of lost and take what appears to be a really overgrown dirt road. There is a spring at the bottom of the valley ahead, so I just run until I find that and get my bearings from that point. The rain has completely stopped and mist rises from the valley floor as the August sun resumes its dominance.

I follow a pole line, as instructed on my maps, until I reach a turnoff. I gather, from the instructions my brother printed from the race’s website, that this turnoff is easy to miss in the delirium of the race. Runners that have already been training have been kind enough to thoroughly mark the turn.

The turnoff leads into a tangled forest. The Wasatch 100 runners work on all the trails before the race, but I think they haven’t reached this area yet. Vegetation crosses the trail for the first mile. I can’t see the trail. I can’t even see my feet, so I look far ahead, following what appears to be the trail. It is a strange sensation.

I don’t fall. I’m quite proud of this.

I climb one last ridge and I can hear the freeway below me. Hmmm… I don’t like that. The trail drops down some switchbacks to a ravine that runs parallel to, but lower than, the freeway, so I can’t hear it anymore. You would never know it was right there. I lose the trail, pull out my instructions and try taking an uphill trail that puts me onto a frontage road. Nope, this isn’t right. I bushwhack back down, lose my sunglasses to a grabby tree, and leap over a little stream. As I land, I see deep, giant moose tracks.

Great.

Don’t get me wrong. I love all wildlife, but I prefer moose at a safe distance.

I find the trail and continue running. The trail is narrow and winding and I expect to see a moose at every turn.

I make it through without a moose encounter, manage to not take the wrong turn into a golf course, and climb out of the ravine to the freeway exit where we had dropped off my car that morning.

On race day, this will be a bright, bustling aid station. This will be the spot where I hand my brother over to my husband.

Unless he has to leave me on the trail.