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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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