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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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