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

Share the Trail

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2016-08-02-09-49-06I’m on a narrow downhill section of singletrack. Yay downhill! The section is not steep, but lots of roots cross the trail, requiring enough focus that I don’t see the mountain biker coming uphill until I almost reach him. Startled, I slam on the brakes and step to the side. By this time, he has also stopped and pulled off.

“Thanks!”, we yell at exactly the same time.

“Have a good run/ride!”, we yell at exactly the same time as we each move on.

2016-08-02-10-42-08I’m kind of laughing at our excessive politeness as I continue my run. It’s really nice to laugh at excessive politeness, rather than grousing about the rudeness of someone on the trail.

I won’t say it happens a lot, but I’m sure we’ve all had those trail moments that kind of ruin your mood for a while. It bothers me the most when it’s a fellow runner. Sometimes I’ll wave, or say hi, and get a stony stare in return. Then I say things under my breath…

2016-08-02-09-24-32On that extremely polite day, I was on a trail that can get a lot of mountain bike traffic. It’s part of an extensive network of trails, some bike only, some downhill bike only, some multi-use. On this system of trails, I’ve seldom had a problem with a mountain bike. Everyone seems to be just enjoying themselves and able to share without trouble. Which makes sense. It’s not that hard.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the case everywhere I run.

Part of the problem, admittedly, is the inconsistency in trail sharing rules. There is a sign at most trailheads in my area that shows a horse, hiker, and bike. This sign shows that everyone yields to horses, and bikes yield to hikers.

2016-08-07-08-05-05-2If you learn one thing from this post, always yield to horses. Always! As a former equestrienne, I can tell you that even a horse you know well can be unpredictable at times. Also, horses are BIG! If you squeeze behind a horse on the trail, you might be unpleasantly surprised at the result. With horses, move off the trail as much as possible and let them pass. Pay attention to the rider. If the rider seems relaxed, she’s probably on a horse that has a lot of trail miles and will not misbehave. If the rider is tense on the reins, then give them plenty of room and don’t make sudden moves.

On other trails, signs say “yield to uphill”. This makes sense. For me, admittedly not the greatest mountain biker that ever lived, starting on an uphill can be difficult. Running uphill doesn’t pose the same challenge, but it’s nice to keep going when you’re trying to push to the top of a hill.

20160828_152611-2There is a nice, short, technical, multi-use trail that I run sometimes where I have had NO END of problems. I don’t know if it’s the easy accessibility of this trail, but I often come across that dreaded “bad biker”. This is the mountain biker that puts all the trails at risk for mountain bike closures.

This particular trail is used by families with tiny children and great-grandmas. It’s frequented by stoners and groups of teens. These groups don’t take a nice nature hike thinking they are putting life and limb at risk.

But, throw a few pre-teen mountain bikers into the mix, drop them off at the top so they’re not even tired (good idea, dad) and see how fast they can get to the bottom. Do this every Saturday, the busiest day on the trail. Whether they think they’re in a race or a video game, there is no slowing for pedestrians, other bikes, or wildlife.

2016-08-07-09-32-24Unfortunately, these are the mountain bikers that the people on the trail that day are going to remember. They will remember the ones that almost ran them down, the ones that didn’t slow down, since they were airborne, the ones that would never think to smile, or nod, or thank somebody for moving to the side.

And these are less than half of one percent of the mountain bikers I see on my runs.

I don’t have a solution for these particular stupid boys. My husband and daughter talked to a police officer at the trailhead after a near collision, and the police officer thought you should yield to downhill riders since they’re going fast and it’s hard to stop. As if careening out of control is something to be desired. So. No help there.

The simplest solution is not to necessarily follow the signs posted, but to be polite. Everybody is doing the same thing. Whether you’re running, hiking, strolling slowly with your grandchildren, or mountain biking, you’re just out enjoying the outdoors. Everybody needs to do that more. We’re a sedentary and expanding populace, and getting out on a trail is extremely good medicine.

IMG_20140415_181300_365If you can’t say “good morning!” or at least nod, maybe you are part of the problem. The trail doesn’t belong to you, it belongs to all of us.

So yield! Just yield.

And maybe smile.

Timp Trail Marathon 2016 – Redemption

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2016-05-21 13.50.59We’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.

2015-05-30 09.20.46

2015

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.

2015-05-30 08.53.57

2015

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.

2015-05-30 09.32.02

2015

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.

2016-05-21 13.51.04I 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.

2015-05-30 09.39.59

2015

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.

2016-05-21 13.45.55For 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. 2016-05-26 11.54.53