Antelope Island Fall Classic 50k-2016

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The Antelope Island Fall Classic 50k starts with a couple of miles of easy uphill. Somewhere to the east the sun has risen, but for now we run in shadow. In a canyon on our left, coyotes start to howl, welcoming the morning. Runners stop, look at each other. Some of us stand and listen for a moment before we continue. The sun is peeking over the horizon as we reach the hilltop.

100_0823It’s a perfect day, in the next ten miles all my extra layers will be discarded. I tend to dress a little on the warm side, so I’m really happy that I decided to wear a tank top as my first layer.

The next few miles are fast and flat followed by a downhill to Death Valley. Everybody seems to make it through Death Valley alive, in spite of the buffalo grazing on the hillside. More fast flats, and we climb to the first aid station.

100_1348I get some Coke and PB&J. Can I just say, and hope that all race directors will listen, that Coca Cola is amazing at an aid station? I don’t know what it is, I don’t drink Coke any other time, but it is perfect during a race.

100_1346Fast downhill again. The course, overall, is pretty easy for a 50k. The website shows 3500 feet of vertical, but my watch ends up closer to 3000 feet. For a Utah race of any length, that’s almost flat. Don’t get me wrong, the lack of vertical doesn’t mean things can’t go horribly wrong.

Respect the distance.

20161105_104629The west side of the island is very pretty in a wild and barren sort of way. This summer 50% of the island burned in a wildfire. I expected to see more signs of this, but the island seems almost normal. Most of the vegetation is grass, with very few trees, so recovery is easier than it would be in many places. There is an ashy, burnt smell when the wind dies down, and some areas look charred, but life has fought back quite well.

At some point, I look at my watch and realize I haven’t eaten in over an hour and a half. I eat a couple of slices of running potatoes (my own recipe) and keep going. Probably should have eaten a little more…

There is a pretty substantial hill coming up where the course crosses over to the east side of the island. I remember the hill from this race three years ago, and I dread it, but my troubles begin before this hill makes its appearance.

There is a part of the course that runs right along the shoreline. There are big rocks, fun to run on, and I jump from one to another like a gazelle…I might not look exactly like a gazelle, but it is fun. After the fun rocks is a section of sand alternating with smaller rocks. I start to really slow here, my pace completely falters, and at one point I just stop, stand in the middle of the trail and look around.

20161105_104506It’s not a steep spot, but I suddenly decide I can’t take another step. The next aid station is about two miles away, but that seems like an extreme distance. My husband is ahead of me somewhere, so I decide to call him so he can come and get me. I decide this although I’m not anywhere near a road, my husband does not have his phone on him, and besides that he is running! Then I remember that there is very spotty cell service on the island, especially at the finish line where I parked my car.

This thought process is a lot harder and more time consuming than you would think. It wasn’t until much later that I realized my ridiculous plans were the result of low blood sugar. My underfed body had depleted my underfed brain of all its sense.

I start walking for a few minutes, then stop again. I’m so hot! I’m so hungry! I’m so glad I’m alone so I can’t whine to anyone! I take off my pack and shed my extra layers of clothes. I try all of the mantras that usually work. My current favorite is Finish on Empty! That one has been great during Spartan races, but it doesn’t work so well when you’re already on empty with miles to go.

I sit on a flat rock on the side of the trail and eat. A couple of runners pass and ask if I’m okay. I’m not sure what my answer is, but it must be reasonable, because no medical helicopter shows up.

20161105_113851Only a week or two before I had written a post for you guys called Under the Bridge. I start thinking about the advice I gave in that post, and realize that’s the advice I currently need the most.

I get up and start going again and reach the dreaded hill. I start to feel better, but my hoped-for time has been completely blown away. I start thinking the whole field has already passed me, and the man coming up the hill behind me is sweeping the course.

But he’s not the sweeper, and the hill turns out to be not so dreadful. I reach the aid station at the top, not quite half way, and tell the kind volunteers that I’m having a rough day. They say, “well let’s see if we can turn it around!”

And they did. More Coca Cola, PB&J and some advice to DRINK MORE!

20161105_101758I drop down to the west side of the island. This side isn’t as pretty, but there are nice views of the mountains of the Wasatch Front. This half is mostly flat. I usually have trouble with flat, but my day truly has turned around, and I maintain a pretty good pace for the rest of the race. The race three years ago had been short of a 50k, but the course this year has been modified, adding about a mile of pavement at the end.

I collect my finisher’s cup (chili bowl) and have it filled with buffalo chili. The buffalo chili at all the Antelope Island races is made by the race director’s wife, and it is delicious!

20161105_093346Like every race, I learned something. Like most races, I finished. My time was slow, but for me, not shamefully slow. I mean, I am The Trail Snail.

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Under the Bridge

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There is no troll under the bridge in this story. There’s not even a trail in this story…

100_1215The sun is beating down mercilessly, so hot it takes my breath away. The air is so hot and dry that drinking doesn’t even help any more.

I stop and look up. Runners pass me, heads down, looking defeated. The sun, strangely, looks tiny, a tiny little dot that is taking away every will I have to keep going. Ahead of me is an overpass, promising a brief moment of shade. Beyond that, the road continues uphill. It’s not steep, but at this moment it is just too much. Maybe if I could get just a tiny bit of cool water, instead of the warm water at the aid stations, maybe then I could go on. Maybe some shade, more than the tiny bit that the bridge will offer, maybe then I could go on. But beyond the bridge, the heat shimmers on top of the pavement and the sky is clear from horizon to horizon. I stand as runners shuffle past, and I know I can’t go on.

2014-10-04-10-50-38I walk to the bridge and stop in the shade. A low concrete barrier lines both sides of the road, and I sit down. Here I will sit until a sag wagon comes. I’ll flag it down and climb in. Inside, the air will be cool. Maybe a sympathetic volunteer will give me an ice cold bottle of water. I’ll ride in comfort to the finish line. I know I won’t have to wait long, there are plenty of shuttles, one goes by every few minutes.

As I wait, I think of how long I have wanted to run this marathon. I think of my joy when I made it through the lottery. I think of my training runs. I put a lot into this, my training was perfect. I think of the medal that would have been waiting at the finish line, and of my family, who will be waiting at the finish line. I think of their reactions, surprise followed by sympathy. Like all good families they will help me rewrite this story so that it’s not really a failure. It was just too hot. It’s amazing that anyone finished… and then I’ll try again next year.

100_1218I think that’s the thought that got me, waiting a whole year to try again, remembering for a whole year that I climbed into an air-conditioned van instead of finishing what I came here to do.

I start to cry when I realize that I can’t get in the shuttle, that I can’t give up. It’s hard to breathe when you’re sobbing. I think somebody asks if I’m okay, but maybe I imagined that, in any case I don’t answer. I’m not okay.

I stand up and walk through the remainder of the shade, then I start to run. I start at a shuffle, but I gradually pick up my pace and make it over the hill. I’m just past the marker for mile 19 when a shuttle passes me.

100_1214Now I’ve completed the St. George Marathon six times, it’s the only road race on my calendar these days. The second time, the bridge seemed to appear so soon, I felt so good! When I saw the bridge, I smiled, probably a big, stupid smile. When I ran under the bridge, I was startled when a sob escaped me, and then another. I had to walk, trying to breathe normally, trying to keep my emotions a secret. I’m not really a crier. A lot of people cry during and after events, from happiness, relief, pain… a section of Daughters of Distance, by Vanessa Runs, is dedicated to this phenomena, and it seems to occur regardless of gender, fitness level or experience in the sport. My daughter cries at the end of most events, something that was pretty confusing for her husband the first time he witnessed it.

“Are you okay? Was it bad?”

“No, it was great! I’m so happy!”

But I don’t really do that. Except EVERY SINGLE TIME I run under that bridge. Six years. No reason to think it will change. Some of the years have been relatively easy, like that second year (the bridge is here already!?!) and some have been closer to that first year (there’s that cursed &#*$&%@ bridge!).

A Gandalf misquote

A Gandalf misquote

Now the bridge is a symbol to me. It reminds me what I need to do when struggles seem too difficult. That few moments of my life, six years ago, was actually an epic battle of my mind against my body.  One of the benefits of endurance sports is that you learn to triumph. You learn to suck it up. You learn to think of that year of regret, and decide that you really can take another step.

Struggling through a marathon isn’t the same as raising a child, making a marriage work, or maintaining a successful career. It’s not the same as having a sick parent, losing a family member, or dealing with illness and injury.

And yet, in a way, it is.

So my advice, take it or not, is this:

When you think you can’t, even when you absolutely know you can’t, maybe just take one more step. Maybe, after all, you can.20161113_092958