an ode to dirt

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You are the powder that fills my lungs,
the sticky clay that fills my treads,
in browns and yellows and grays and reds,
oh dirt, how I love you

IMG_20140618_134527_543As a little girl I played in the dirt. Of course. That’s what kids do. The Tonka trucks and tractors that my brothers received as gifts made for endlessly fascinating fun. (I won’t say how long ago this was, suffice it to say it was long enough that even my somewhat progressive parents gave trucks to boys and dolls to girls). We built roads and mountains, dug rivers and trenches, created whole landscapes in a few square feet of soil. Dirt was fun.

10341500_10201159424587631_2226066265517250975_nI’m no longer a little girl. I’m a grown woman. I play in the dirt. Dirt is fun.

I dream of dirt. In my dreams I’m on my toes, my Salomons biting into the dirt as I run up a crazy-steep hill. For some reason, I never dream of running downhill. But that’s the best part, the controlled fall, the near disaster, the dozens of near misses, the… SONOFABITCH!!! … the uncontrolled fall, the jarring teeth-rattling sudden-stop, dirt stuck in my hands and knees, dirt in my socks, dirt rash on my shins.

When I was a little girl, I probably ate dirt. I don’t remember doing this, but I think it’s something kids do. I definitely eat dirt now, but never on purpose.

Some phenomena of the dirty life:

The Dirty Car– My Durango is not new. It had a previous life within my own family where it was kept free of dog hair and mud. Now I think with a few seeds and water I could make it into a greenhouse. Don’t get me wrong, I clean it sometimes. Sometimes I wash it and vacuum out the dirt and dried mud and dog hair. It’s a waste of time. It’s clean for a few days at most.

10505435_10201159426147670_7427605395830966179_nThe Dirty Dog– The Dirty Car wouldn’t really exist without The Dirty Dog. Turn over the floor mats, make a couple of threats, and the people areas of the car stay pretty clean. The Dirty Dog collects a few pounds of mud with each trip, even on a dry day (see Clayton the Malador). The Dirty Dog very efficiently delivers this mud into nooks and crevices of the car that are impossible to reach with any vacuum. The Dirty Dog also helps with The Dirt Tan (again, see Clayton the Malador).

IMG_20140621_190303The Dirt Tan– It’s a source of pride. When my non-running daughter and I got back to the car after a hike I said, Hey, nice dirt tan.” “What? What’s a dirt tan?” She turned down her sock and we were both impressed with her well-defined tan line. The Dirt Tan is faster and easier than a regular tan, cheaper and more natural than a spray-on or salon tan, and it doesn’t cause skin cancer. Unfortunately, it tends to fade quickly in the shower. A good formula to remember is Dirt Tan=Good Day.

Trail runners are not alone. Gardeners love dirt. Mountain bikers love dirt. There are dirt track auto races where the fans live for a nice dirt clod to the face. I mean, what’s not to love?

Carpe Lutum (Seize the Dirt)!

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My DFL (almost)

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100_0276Mock Hill looms… well, mockingly. It’s an impossible climb. Absolutely impossible. Maybe on another day, a day without twenty-something miles on my legs;  a day when the heat is lower than mid-90s; a day when my water hasn’t run out (again); maybe on a day like that it would be possible.

The aid station is on top of Mock Hill. From the top of Widowmaker, we could see the aid station, a white canopy that was hopelessly far away. The aid station is no longer visible now. I look for it, try to catch a glimpse of the white canopy, but from here I estimate that the climb is exactly vertical, like the wall of a building. What grade is that? I don’t know. Impossible.

Our run has deteriorated to baby steps. I try to keep my mantra in my mind. Relentless. Forward. Progress. I repeat it over and over, and my progress remains forward, I suppose (I mean, at least it’s not  backwards), but deep down I want to crawl into the shade of the determined  juniper tree that clings to the hillside.

My daughter is just ahead of me. Behind me are a couple of guys chatting as they sweep the course. Yes, the course sweepers are right behind us. My daughter will insist that she was having a bad day as well, and I’m certain that is true, but her bad days are MUCH better than my bad days. She’s just not the DFL (dead f#!king last) type.

Suddenly, at the top of Mock Hill, faces appear. They are the most beautiful women in the world. I think they must be angels. They are cheering, clapping, shouting words of encouragement. When we reach them, there is cold Coke, damp towels, probably some food. Definitely some magic. When we leave the aid station, we are running again.

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The aid station before Mock Hill is one we will visit again. When we reached that aid station the first time, our day was just becoming difficult. The lovely women (seriously, where did they get all these lovely women) at that aid station gave us encouragement. One of them pointed to the giant pipe that formed a tunnel under a road.

“We’ll see you coming through that tunnel on your way back,” she said, “I know we will.”

And they did, against what seemed impossible odds. Of course I started crying as I exited the tunnel and there they were, cheering for us, seemingly unconcerned by the fact that we were the only reason they were still there.

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The view from Widowmaker

Earlier, halfway up Widowmaker, my body had rebelled in a serious way. My daughter forced me to sit down on the hillside, as it was apparently obvious that I was extremely drunk.  A gentleman came up the hill and stopped to offer help. He gave me a stern lecture, a couple of salt tabs, and some gels. I hadn’t been eating right, not at all like I had trained, and now I was paying the price. As he left, he said, “don’t worry, you’ll be passing me before the end.”

I didn’t believe him. I couldn’t imagine even reaching the finish line at that point (and this was long before Mock Hill). But he was right. With a couple of miles to go, we spotted him. I expressed misgivings about passing him after the help he had given me, but my daughter insisted that he would want to run his own race, and he would probably give me another stern lecture if I didn’t run my own race. So with about a mile to go we passed my savior and finished our first 50k second and third to last.

Quitting isn’t that hard. Not even in a trail ultra. There is a vehicle at each aid station with people willing to help you in any way they can. There is always a SAG wagon. But even as we baby-stepped up Mock Hill, I don’t think we ever really considered quitting.

Running constantly mirrors life. Life is a marathon. Life is an ultra-marathon. Things never always get worse. When things are impossible, just keep baby-stepping.

And always choose a DFL over a DNF.

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Yep, we finished