We’ve been wet for hours. Hours. It takes a while to get really cold, but eventually we do. My hands no longer work the zippers on my pack. My thighs feel strangely numb. Not just the skin, but the muscles. Now and then I just stop, my muscles quivering in a strange way, my legs deciding that we are now done. I encourage them, without much enthusiasm, and we get going again. Why didn’t I wear tights? Why?!?
The view is opening up ahead, steep peaks covered with snow. I can see a meadow, with little tents and smoke. What a cold place to camp! Then I realize… this is the Indian Springs aid station! These hard-core volunteers packed up here last night. Just to give me a peanut butter sandwich.
We stand next to the dying fire for a few minutes. It snowed very recently and the trailside grass is covered with wet slush. It’s not easy to leave the fire, but we do, climbing again to a high meadow. And high winds. And the assumption that we will never be warm again.
The Timp Trail Marathon is run on an incredibly beautiful course. The first half brings deep green meadows and panoramic views of Utah Valley. At the Gun Range (first) aid station, we get coke and cowbell. Yes, cowbell! Thank you charming couple! Then the rain starts, so light it doesn’t even count. The temperature is perfect.
Because of my last attempt at this marathon Timp Trail Marathon Race Report: Comedy or Tragedy?, my husband B has joined me. He promises me that I will take the correct turn at the Dry Canyon parking lot. He promises a finish line. I also noticed him packing some first aid equipment the night before. I almost feel obligated to take a nice fall so he can use it.
So we take the correct turn at the Dry Canyon parking lot. When we reach the Grove Creek (second) aid station, we get more cowbell! But the rain has picked up. We stand under a canopy and put on our jackets and gloves. I put a Buff around my neck and a warm headband across my ears. I wish for a rain jacket, but the one I have is mainly for wind. We step out from under the canopy and are drenched in minutes.
Heading away from the valley, the course climbs until we reach a deep canyon. Steep, rocky cliffs rise above us, the peaks disappearing into cloud. We continue along the steep side of the canyon on a sometimes precarious trail. A stream rushes through the bottom of the canyon, swollen with spring runoff and steady rain. The trail crosses rockslides and rock shelves. As a runner with a falling habit, I use a lot of caution in some spots. Eventually, the stream becomes louder, much louder. We turn a corner and find that we are looking down on a waterfall. At this point we just stop and enjoy the view. And at this point in my story, I must apologize. No pictures. It’s raining too hard for my camera to come out. I’m sorry.
Next year I promise multitudes of pictures.
We cross above the top of the waterfall and climb through forests to the Indian Springs (third) aid station. Then a little more climbing, across the high meadow… and then down! Fortunately the first few sections of downhill aren’t too technical, since my muscles are still frozen. The rain stops. After a long stretch of downhill, we start to climb again. The trail has degenerated to stretches of slimy, sticky mud. Somehow I stay upright, slipping backwards as I climb upwards. The mud lasts almost to the Dry Canyon (fourth and final) aid station. On the last downhill to the aid station, I finally hit the ground. It had to happen.
I get another peanut butter sandwich. I’ve been thinking about another peanut butter sandwich ever since the last aid station. Then we begin the last climb. As we reach the top, Utah Valley once again opens up below us. The sun comes out at last. I take off my gloves, buff and headband. I’m warm. I can’t believe I’m warm. I could lose a layer, but I don’t bother. It’s so nice to be warm.
The course finishes with fast downhills, on singletrack crossing through scrub oak and green meadows. The high desert is in its brief spring glory, the hills covered in green. I call it the Irish phase. In another month, these hills will be yellow and crisp.
Finish line! A man points out a picnic area where we can get some chili. He obviously has a good idea of the course conditions, because he says, “after this, you know you can do anything.”
It’s true. We do feel that way. We just ran 26 miles, with 5,292 feet of climb, through mud and winds and rain, flirting with hypothermia and potentially deadly dropoffs. B did it with a nasty head cold that becomes bronchitis within days. I did it (as usual) with my weak legs and lungs. We did it. WE DID IT!
I have a runner specific, recurring nightmare where I don’t make a start line. I struggle to find my shoes, my running clothes, my watch, all fighting through that unique dream fog that you know will NEVER allow you to make the start line! Over the past year, this nightmare took a twist. I make the start line all right, but then I realize I’m off course, I took a wrong turn somewhere, I don’t know where I am, I can’t find any flagging, I will NEVER find the finish line! Everyone who knows me knows the source of this nightmare.
For a year, the Timp Trail Marathon has haunted me like the white whale in Moby Dick. As badly as I wanted the finish a year ago, this finish means so much more after last year’s failure. The taste of redemption is sweeter than honey. My finisher’s medal is worth more to me than gold.
Yep, a cliche-packed paragraph that is nevertheless SO TRUE!
B informed me at the finish line that he was taking full credit for my finish. My legs and feet gave some argument, but I can’t deny that I finished, unlike the minor disaster of the previous year.
So I’ll give him some credit, but I’m not about to give him my incredibly valuable medal.
We’re climbing a hill on our toes. Our magical trail shoes grip the smooth red rock, turning us into human mountain goats. Perhaps we are breathing a little harder than a mountain goat would in this situation. Perhaps the mountain goat wouldn’t stop to take a picture or gaze open-mouthed at the view. Then again, confronted with the panorama of red domes and cliffs, frosted with snow like giant red and orange cakes, with hazy purple and white mountains in the far distance, even a mountain goat might stop and stare.
My second Moab Red Hot 33k left me even more enamored than my first. Have you ever run on the red rock that lives in Utah? Have you stared down from a high point at the savage beauty of the rocky desert? I recommend it, dear reader, if you ever get the chance.
But I’ve already told you about the event, and my deep love for everything about it (Moab’s Red Hot 33k… a Love Story). So I’ll just tell you about this year. Last year was quite dry. This year brought a lot of snow, and the Red Hot course was changed slightly to get us out of the snow and ice-filled ravines. That meant even more running on the slick rock, and less down in the sandy washes.
Last year I ran alone. This year I’m running with J, one of my two pregnant daughters.
Yes, two pregnant daughters. My running daughter J and my non-running daughter N are expecting their own daughters this summer. Within six weeks of each other. I’m not making this up. My running goals and wishes and aspirations now require a jogging stroller for two.
My children are old enough that the whole pregnancy thing is a blurry memory, but one thing I remember clearly is that you fall madly, hopelessly in love the second you see that baby. So I’m doing a lot of cardio to make extra room in my heart.
Anyway. The plan for today is that I will go at J’s pregnant pace, keep her in check a little, not let her get all competitive. So the three of us (one is about the size of a blueberry and isn’t even wearing shoes) are running together. Also in the field is my husband, Js father, and the blueberry’s grandfather, B. This is just one person. B.
Also, running in the 55k, is my big brother! He’s also a J so I’ll call him JC. I probably wouldn’t even be a runner if it wasn’t for him. He’s to blame for all of this! His inspiration and influence have caused me no end of foot pain and running related expenditures. He is a 3-time Ironman and has completed LOTOJA eleven times (if you don’t know what that is, look it up, you’ll be impressed). He was running marathons when that was still an impossible distance for me.
JC has only dabbled in trail running, but he has now decided that a 100 miler is his next big thing. So he’s out there, running the most beautiful course in the world for his big trail debut.
The day is perfect, with clouds painted across brilliant blue skies. We keep a steady pace, taking pictures when there is no choice, taking it pretty easy. The only way J seems any different is that she’s running with me. Normally she would be waaaay up there somewhere. One of us fell, but not J. This happened just after that someone made a mocking comment about the baby. Don’t disrespect the blueberry. That’s what I learned. We finish within seconds of my time last year, so either I’m a fantastic pacer, or she is.
B finishes far enough ahead of us that his free beer is already gone and he is prepared to drink Js free beer. I think it’s unfair to take advantage of a beer lover’s pregnant state, but B apparently does not agree.
We wait at the finish line, hoping to see JC finish the 55k, but that post-run chill starts to kick in and we get on a shuttle back to our car. As we walk to our car, I see Anna Frost. ANNA FROST!! I think it can’t be her, I mean this is a pretty small event in Utah, and of course I don’t say anything to her, but it’s ANNA FROST!! I tell everyone at work! They give me a blank stare… ah well, we all have our heroes, and four of mine ran this year’s Red Hot.
When I talk to my brother later, it’s obvious that he’s hooked. He has a 50 mile race scheduled about 5 weeks after the Red Hot, and I’ve no doubt it will go as planned. By the time he runs his 100 miles I will have two granddaughters. One year ago, I could not have imagined this, for either of us.
So keep running, friends. You never know what’s around that next corner.
There are things that happen out on the trail that make me feel especially slow. Once, while I was running, a man caught up and passed me. He wasn’t running, he was hiking. But he had really long legs. So, not a big deal, right? Except for the Yorkshire Terrier trotting along with him. With the usual Yorkie size short legs. As they passed, the Yorkie gave me a really superior, snobby look. Not cool
Or the time I startled a quail and it ran away in fear. And kept running, pulling away, running away down the trail on its two-inch long legs. Pretty much lost me. Also, not cool.
Then there’s The Ivy Dog.
The Ivy Dog, as you have learned (The Ivy Dog) is a trail running machine. She has perfect conformation for trail running, with all-wheel-drive, traction control and the finest brakes money can buy. She also has perfect trail etiquette. She politely greets fellow trail runners and, unlike her buddy Clayton the Malador, she never bumps you when she passes. The only thing she does on the trail that is slightly rude is when she stops uptrail and waits. She isn’t trying to be rude, but the look on her face is like, “my gaaawwwd can’t you go any faster? I don’t have all day here!”
About six months ago, Ivy got a red spot on her eye. At first it looked like an injury, like maybe she caught a branch in the eye or something like that. It was off on the side, on the white part, and most of the time you couldn’t see it at all until she turned her head just right.
The Ivy Dog actually belongs to my non-running daughter N, who relies on the rest of the family to keep Ivy sane by taking her trail running. When the red spot didn’t go away after a few weeks, N took Ivy to the vet. N started treating her with eyedrops morning and night. The Ivy Dog, as I mentioned in the previous post, is ridiculously smart. Even though the drops were unpleasant, she began whining at a certain time of evening if N hadn’t given her the drops yet. Us humans need a lot of reminding. It’s not easy being in charge of us.
I won’t give you all the details, but suffice it to say that the drops cleared an underlying problem that they had identified, but did nothing for the red spot. In fact, it began to grow rapidly, spreading across her eye and getting in the way of her eyelid.
The concerns turned rapidly to cancer and whether it may have metastasized to other parts of her body. This, in turn, led to sleepless nights (for us, Ivy was very brave) lots of vet fees, and some hard decisions. It also led to a couple of sad trail runs. We didn’t know when, or if, Ivy would join us on the trail again. Each run leading up to her surgery could be the last. Did she know? I couldn’t tell. She ran and played like it was her last. But she always does.
A few days before Ivy lost her eye, an ultrasound of her abdomen came back clean. The other area of concern was her lungs. The lung x-ray had a couple of spots that might be a problem, or might not. We wouldn’t know if we should worry until they biopsied the tumor on her eye.
We have a wonderful vet. A couple of them, actually. They told us to YouTube videos of one-eyed dogs so we wouldn’t be shocked by how she looked. We did. It’s not an easy thing to see, but at this point, we wanted the tumor to be gone, and Ivy to be okay. That’s all. We knew she was beautiful and always would be. We also knew that if any dog would be just fine with one eye, it would be The Ivy Dog. (Clayton the Malador is a doofus, he would run into everything!)
We picked her up in the evening. She was very high on drugs. I walked her into the parking lot and she stopped, staring at some buildings across from the vet’s office. She stood there for a few minutes, moving her head just slightly. So this is how things look now. Okay. Then she walked purposefully to the car.
Two weeks confined to a carrier is like two years in a prison cell for a dog like Ivy. Two weeks in a cone AND confined to a carrier is worse than anything that’s ever happened to anybody. It was very snowy during that time. She is very modest and won’t do her business if you’re watching, so we let her off leash in the backyard. As soon as the leash was off, she ran like a jackrabbit. We chased her and she ran, using her cone as a snow shovel, joyfully throwing snow over her head as she ran from the pitiful two-legs.
So we knew she would be fine.
She didn’t know she was supposed to be convalescing. She thought we were ridiculous, trying to make her walk down stairs (instead of fly), trying to make her drink, trying to make her eat. I get it. If you were to say to me, “Hey, thetrailsnail.com (that’s what my friends and family call me) you need to drink this water, and eat this bowl of damp kibble. Eat it all. Good girl!” I would also roll my eyes at you, or eye, if I happened to have only one.
She was angry at Clayton the Malador. She assumes everything is his fault. But she stepped her chicken herding up a notch, deciding, for instance, that they really needed to be herded into a particular area and kept there for a certain amount of time. This led to some conversations like this:
“Is Ivy eating the chickens? They sound like they’re being attacked,” my husband calmly asks. I look out the window, “No, they’re in the corner of the garden by the composter. She’ll let them go at the appropriate time.”
Two weeks after surgery, we went back to the vet. The biopsy had come back, the tumor was benign. She was finally okayed to get rid of the cone, but a slight infection was going to keep her off the trail for another week.
As we were leaving, Ivy walked up to say hi to a man sitting in the waiting room. He was a tattooed biker dude, a tough-looking guy. He reached to pet her, then recoiled when he saw her missing eye. She dropped her head and walked away.
I would like to say that this exchange didn’t make me cry, but I can’t. My heart kind of broke for her right then.
We waited out the week. Then my daughter J and I took her out to her favorite trail. We kept her pace slow (i.e., at our pace) and kept her on leash for about a mile. When it was clear that we had the canyon to ourselves, we let her off. She didn’t miss a beat. She went right back to her steady, ground-eating pace and took the lead. She stayed to the trail more than usual, with just slight meanderings, but she seemed to be even faster than before! We had to keep reminding her that we were slow, pathetic two-legs. At one point, after being made to feel like exceptionally sluggish little slow worms, we taunted her, saying that maybe she had twice as many legs as us, but we had twice as many eyes! Too soon? Sorry. Ivy thought it was funny.
So The Ivy Dog is back. She seems to have lost absolutely nothing, and to have gained even more joy on the trail after being confined. We’ve all been there, right?
It’s a strange journey, when the worst thing you can imagine isn’t really the worst thing. It’s a horrible truth in life, that there are always worse things. Losing an eye is an awful thing, but if you could ask Ivy, I think she would tell you it’s no big deal. Not running; not smelling squirrels and voles and deer; not ridiculing slow humans? That’s what’s really hard.
So if you see her out on the trail, sporting her pink collar and single eye, please accept her greeting. Give her a head nod. Tell her she’s pretty. Don’t recoil. Don’t say “ewww”.
Remember, she’s part of the trail running community. Just like you.