My account’s still active! Guess I should get on the stick and write something about Antarctica – it’s only been nine months!
It’s taper time! Meaning that I’ve run my last high-mileage week before the Antarctic Ice Marathon, and from here until the Big Day it’s all easy-peasy, starting tomorrow with the 3TV Half Marathon in downtown Phoenix. According to my ARR diary I’ve logged 1003 miles so far this year. Tempting as it is, I think it’s premature to pass judgment on my training, so instead I’d like to reflect, without judging, on the events of the past year.
About half the specialist cold-weather gear I bought last winter has since been replaced. Tokyo showed me that the lined wind pants were fine for ordinary wear, but wouldn’t be comfortable for running. I replaced the winter tights that kept creeping towards my ankles during the Soulstice trail run with a style with a closer fit. The first wind shell jacket I bought turned out to be too heavy – again, fine for ordinary use, and I’m certainly not throwing it out. My running gear is sorted now, although I’ll probably be futzing over gloves and scarves till the last minute. Since the summer heat is only just now breaking as I type this (we are literally experiencing a 15-degree drop in temperature over this weekend), I haven’t been able to give my full kit a proper workout, so fingers are kind of crossed on that point!
I smashed the hills at this February’s Sedona Half Marathon, and feeling better prepared than for any race before, headed into the Tokyo Marathon – where I tanked. In March I carried the torch for a pair of evening stages for One Run For Boston, feeling a little embarrassed by co-worker’s exclamations of “You’re running 14 miles, after work, in the dark? That’s Ragnar crazy!” I finished the last mile of the Whiskey Row half with one shoe off, one shoe on, thanks to a massive blister on my toe. At the Bucket of Blood half in Holbrook I got lost – not unusual for that course – but had fun anyway splashing through the monsoon puddles. The E.T. Full Moon Midnight Marathon left me drained, finishing with a Personal Worst after hours of staggering through the darkness repeating “Why do I do this to myself? Why?” Soulstice Moutain’s 7,000 foot start line led to my very first DNF. If I may temporarily ease my ban on passing judgment, don’t ever just throw a high-altitude race into the mix without specifically training for it.
Not to mention all the every-day obligations and crises that get in the way of training, because please, who doesn’t have those?
So here I am, 17 days out from the Big Day that I first started planning for two years ago. So now there’s a sense of relief, a sense of release, because my preparation is done, because there’s nothing left for me to do, except not screw things up between now and the 18th. Don’t try any exotic new gels or socks or stretches. Don’t drop a bowling ball on my foot. And above all, don’t think of purple penguins dancing the hula!
Into the Blue Again
Monday evening I met with my longtime coach David Allison to go over my twelve-week training plan. Less than a hundred days left until the Antarctic Ice Marathon, and stuff’s getting real! From the moment I first saw pictures from this marathon, I knew I had to be a part of that incredible landscape.
It seems most runners who do this race have some kind of fundraiser. Mine has been pretty low key, mostly because I’ve always considered the connection between one person running for fun and another person making a donation to charity a little bizarre. Since the beginning of the year I’ve been making donations to the Heifer Project, 26.2 cents per mile run.
This week I kicked off a series of incentives, drawing on my previous experience as a singer-songwriter. For each $50 raised for Heifer through Journey to the Bottom of the Earth (not including my own donations!) I’m releasing a video of a song from my back catalog that’s never been recorded before, by me or anyone else.
(If you choose to donate, you can do so with the full confidence that Heifer will not use your donation for frivolous expenses, like high-tech web design. I shouldn’t be dissing Heifer, but their fundraiser site has one fugly boilerplate.)
So – twelve more weeks! The race date is sometime November 18-23, depending on the weather in Antarctica. I plan on keeping this journal more up-to-date than it has been recently, and posting daily over on Facebook at Journey to the Bottom of the Earth.
Hints for this desert lizard on surviving the polar cold are appreciated!
Matter of fact, it’s all dark
[She’s ba-ack! Trying to get caught up on this year’s races with a few quickie posts.]
Just getting to the start line on Nevada’s remote Extra-Terrestrial Highway is and adventure. In Las Vegas temps are in the low 100s and the short walk to the Hard Rock Hotel has already sweat-soaked my race gear. In contrast, the air conditioned bus is absolutely frigid. It’s a two hour drive to the middle of nowhere, then everyone tumbles out for photos next to the legendary “black” mailbox.
I’m not a big fan of sleep deprivation, so any event starting at midnight is a stretch for me, but surrounded by the excitement of all the other runners about to do this crazy thing (marathoners and the 51K ultras start from the same point), the late night fatigue falls away and I’m off at a respectable clip.
The full moon is excessively bright, washing the stars from the sky and casting the naked Nevada hills in stark daylight contrast. Like many of the other runners, I’ll douse my headlamp later in the run, and ooh and ahh at the fireballs from the Perseid meteor shower. (I counted nine throughout the course of the night, not bad considering they had to be as bright as Venus or brighter to overpower the light of the Moon.)
The first miles fly by, but the course is uphill for the first 13, and the late-night fatigue returns around mile 11-12 as one false summit after another presents itself. Finally, at 2:30 in the morning, I reach the midway aide station, where they are just running our of jelly for the PB&J sandwiches but still have plenty other snacks. Huge props to the volunteers, who were out there all night, and in temps that were perfect for runners but a little chilly for just standing around. It’s all downhill from here – mostly.
Around Mile 15 the distant lights of Rachel, the first lights I’ve seen all night not attached to a runner or support car – come into view. A huge sense of relief washes over me, until I do the math and realize I haven’t covered 2/3 of the distance yet.
Dawn is brightening the sky as I pass Rachel for a final out-and back, and the wheels gently but decisively come off. I’ve got one sprint left in me, and that’s for the finish line; I’m walking the last two miles in. I’m still a few hundred yards out when one of the ultras comes running up behind me. “Let’s finish this together,” he says, and we do.
In brief: an unforgettable race, and one that kicked my butt.
Apache Junction, Arizona, USA
Band on the Run
This 8K trail run at the Rodeo Grounds to raise funds for the Apache Junction High School marching band is new this year, and it has the setting and the volunteers to make it a successful annual event. The inaugural race suffered somewhat from a case of disorganitis, but hopefully next year they’ll get the publicity machine started earlier and attract the participation this cause deserves. So much better than buying band candy!
If you’ve run the Lost Dutchman 8K, you’re familiar with the terrain – hardpack desert along with lots of loose rock, sand, and gullies, and a noticeable headwind on the easterly stretches of the course. (With all that sand, I think I’ve found the place to train for Antarctica w/o having to drive to California or Sonora for a beach to run on!) The temps had cooled down to where it made a pleasant early morning run in the desert.
(Note to self: Going to Coach’s happy hour the night before a race is not a recipe for a new PR.)
Phoenix, Arizona, USA
This is the “free” race that you get when you join ARR, along with the nifty running log/calendar. Having sat out the ARR Summer Series, this was my “big” kickoff for the fall season. Unfortunately a summer’s worth of staying up past my bedtime and sleeping in past dawn ingrained a bad habit, and I woke up less than an hour before bib pickup closed at Reach 11, forty minutes away! I have never dressed so fast in my life, and I don’t remember what breakfast was.
I’m glad I picked the 5K because my glutes were super sore from Sh’bam the day before (also from crawling around cutting fabric), and it’s still hot enough out here – 90 degrees by 9:00 per my car’s thermometer – that I felt like I was melting while picking up my post-race nosh. ARR organizers had to scramble at the last minute to redraw the course after last weekend’s rains opened small canyons on some of the trails, but it really wasn’t noticeable.
Official time: 30:24. Not a PR, not terrible. Two more races for September!
Tombstone, Arizona, USA
I did not shoot the deputy
A small-town Arizona race to see off the summer and get back in the groove after Bay of Fundy.
The thing that always surprises me about these historic “Old West” towns is how small the historic district is – in the case of Tombstone, the original township site is no more than a few blocks square. There’s not much modern town around it, either; most of the course for this race runs through rural desert where people decorate their yards as whimsically as they please because there’s not a HOA as far as the eye can see.
The race is organized by the local historical re-enactor society, the Tombstone Vigilantes. The field of about 100 mostly local runners gathers at the gazebo in the little patch of park next to the old OK Corral site. I’m noticing a distinct pain in my lower left back so yeah, not going for any kind of a PR today. We’re instructed to line up on the white line… no, not that white line, the other white line. A gunshot start, and we’re off on a loop through the aforementioned historic district, and quickly out onto Camino San Rafael. The Chihuahuan desert is beautiful and green after the recent rains, and there’s a light cloud cover too. It lasts until late in the race, so I don’t take advantage of the misters thoughtfully set up at the aid stations until I’m on the return leg.
I’d felt a little miffed when one of the Vigilantes went out of his way to warn me this “isn’t a flat race”. Do I look like a wimp? Around Mile 4 I fully appreciate his warning as I hit “the hill too tough to climb” on the return. Yeah, definitely not a PR today. Still, the weather is nice and I pick it up again when I’m back on the straightaway. A turn to the left, there’s Crazy Annie’s Bordello again so I must be almost there… and back down the main drag of Tombstone to the finish!
Garmin time: 1:10:00 [No official time – they were having “issues” with the stopwatch and nothing’s been posted to the website]
A side note, even though this was a small race they had awards in the form of a wooden tombstone, 3 deep in each age group.
Lubec, Maine, USA & Campobello Island, New Brunswick, Canada
Rollin’ rollin’ rollin’
Tucked away in the northernmost corner of Downeast Maine, the small town of Lubec provided a picturesque and friendly environment for this run. The organization was outstanding, especially given the logistics involved in a two-country marathon; you’d hardly have known this was the inaugural event.
Getting there from Phoenix was almost as involved as an overseas trip; red-eye to Bangor via Philly, overnight at the Bangor airport hotel, and then a 3-hour drive up the coast to Lubec. I settled into my room at West Quoddy Station, then drove up to the Lighthouse for a look around tomorrow’s starting line before heading into town. Packet pickup is at the high school, but bibpickup is at the Campobello Visitor’s Center on the Canadian side of the border – it’s a clever way to make sure that all marathon runners have to pass through the Customs checkpoint, show their passports and get their names ticked off a list both ways. Like many others I park on the US side and walk across, to get a preview of “the hill” on the other side of the bridge.
Back at the high school, a ukulele band with a wide repertoire is entertaining the line into the lobster dinner and pasta feed. (The lobster dinner was extra and didn’t include pasta, so not your traditional “carb-loading” dinner.) Dessert is a pile of homemade goodies including cookies and baklava. One of the volunteers kindly gives me a lift back to the Station so I can leave my rental car at the school. There’s a shuttle from the school to the start tomorrow but since I’m staying right on the route there’s some confusion about what time they’re closing the road.
Sunrise comes early on the eastern edge of the continent, so it’s full daylight as I walk the one mile to the start along tree-lined coastal road. About every ten minutes a yellow school bus full of runners passes. Yesterday was overcast but it’s beautiful and clear now and not cold at all. At the start runners are milling around, debating the merits of the portaloos vs the park outhouse, and running down to the lighthouse photo ops. Some fellow One Run For Boston peeps notice my ORFB shirt; they’re going to be running legs in Massachusetts next week. “You’re one of those badasses who ran in the desert!” Uh, badass, me? I don’t think so.
Although my target pace for the marathon is 10:40, I don’t feel bad about starting off in the 9:30 range since the early stretch is a gradual downhill. It’ll get tough enough later on. Classic New England seaside houses sit back from the road, their occupants come out with homemade signs to cheer us on, or wave from their distant balconies. Blue and purple lupins line the way.
At mile four we turn right onto Main Street and head into town. “Welcome runners/Fresh strawberry pie” says a readerboard outside a restaurant. Spectators gather on the sidewalks, some behind tables selling lemonade and spanakopita. “Run For Peace” “Push here for Turbo power!” “Go, random stranger!!!” Blink and you’ll miss it – it’s downtown Lubec! The largest crowd is here on Water Street, right before the bridge. There’s a guy banging on a djembe – I hear a lot of “Go Boston!’ and then “Go Nancy!” Wait, how do they know my name? Oh yeah, it’s on my bib!
Over the bridge and onto Campobello Island! Here, at mile six, is where it starts to get tough. There’s that first big hill, then rolling hill after hill after that, and the road is pretty heavily cambered as well. The elevation profile doesn’t really look that bad; I think it’s just that the hills never end from this point on. I slow to my target pace and maintain that until about mile 14, when it really starts to drag.
Sometimes, where the road dips it opens out into a craggy cove on the left or the right, with maybe a clapboard house or some lobster boats that make me feel like I’m running through a Bob Ross painting. The course across the Island is sprinkled with spectators, clustering outside small shops and B&Bs. There’s even Santa Claus, in a more summery outfit than usual.
Mile 16 is the turnaround at the northern end of the island. I briefly glimpse the other lighthouse; its lamp appears to be lit and there is a bit of a fog coming in. There’s also a light rain on the way back down the island. I’m walking the hills now, and to keep myself going I start growling every time I have to walk, to the consternation of some of my fellow racers who are also taking walk breaks. I’ve hit the proverbial Wall, but I’m bound and determined to pull this one in under 5 hours.
Finally I’m heading down The Hill, the far shore visible in the distance. As I pass over the bridge I look down to see the famous Bay of Fundy tide rushing under my feet. A right onto Water Street, a few hundred yard more, and I’m across the finish line in 4:53:49! Woot!
A volunteer wraps me in tinfoil and bundles me off to the library to warm up. When I emerge, the crafts fair around the finish line is breaking down as the temperature has dropped, the wind picked up and the fog rolled in. I get a hunk of smoked salmon on a stick from one of the vendors, then into a coffee shop for a hot sweet coffee that the chasier gives me free of charge – the people here are so nice!
The general buzz amongst the runners afterwards was “Those hills were tough – I can’t wait to do it again!” Some were even booking their rooms for next year – kind of a necessity when 800 runners and their crew descend on a town of 1,600. I had a great time and was proud to tough it out and break the 5-hour barrier. One day I will run a flat marathon – really!
It Doesn’t Hurt Me
“It’s after the cinder cone on the right, there’s an intersection with a big green sign and it’s the third dirt road on the left after that.”
“I don’t see any green sign,” says Cicely, riding shotgun.
“Google street view had a green sign.”
Half an hour ago we’d been chilling at her friend’s cross-fit gym in Flagstaff; now we’re driving up and down a featureless road in the southwestern corner of the Navajo Nation, trying to locate the handoff point for the baton that left California two days ago. With cell towers few and far between communication with the stages before and after us has been sporadic. A few miles back we passed Amy, who’s running the previous leg, so we know we’re on the right road at least.
We backtrack to find Amy’s support vehicle (i.e. her husband in their Nissan Altima) and synch up with Kate and Danny in the Stinkmobile, where I bewail the lack of landmarks. “I think our landmark is behind that little bit of tumbleweed over there,” Danny deadpans. Kate brings out the One Run For Boston banner for us to sign, a blue and yellow map delineating the route that the baton will be taking from L.A. to Boston over the next three weeks.
Amy is a figure in the distance, running down the side of the road, slowly drawing nearer. I adjust the water bottle in my left hand. I’ve never run with a baton before. There’s a too-short time for hugs, a chat, and photos, and suddenly I have the baton and I’m running down the two-lane blacktop towards Leupp, 11 miles away.
It’s Monday April 15 and I’ve just gotten back to my desk after a long meeting. Out of habit I check the news. Then I grab my phone, go on Facebook and post the first thing that comes to mind: “Holy fuck.”
This should be a time for meditation, for opening oneself up to the experience, to thoughts of the reasons that I’m running, the people dead or injured in the Boston Marathon bombings, the banality of evil, towards showing our resistance and reclaiming our streets. Unfortunately even at this latitude and altitude the temperature is hovering around 100 degrees, and after 30 years of living in the Valley I’ve had it drilled into by tiny head that one simply does not exert oneself in this weather. All of my brain power is taken up shouting down a little voice that tells me I will die if I don’t find the nearest scrap of shade and crawl under until sundown. Cicely is waiting with the car at the 1.5 mile mark, and I fill up my water bottle while she mists me. I’m tempted to linger, but she claps her hands. “Great start, keep it going!”
It’s been a rough year; about Whiskey Row time last year I developed a repetitive stress injury in my QL probably from my desk setup at work, and several weeks after Rapa Nui my back gave out and knocked me completely off my feet. Months of physical therapy, and while I’m still climbing out of that hole I suddenly get a pinched nerve in my shoulder. I’ve been picking up the occasional race, even jumping into a Ragnar as a last-minute replacement, but not really having fun with it. Two steps forward, one and a half back. I just want to not be in pain.
The plain of the high Sonoran stretches off to the distance, tan soil and dried yellow vegetation, broken only by the occasional march of power line towers. Eleven miles is such a tiny fraction of the 3300. I concentrate on the wavering horizon, straining to imagine the great prairies beyond, Texas, Oklahoma, all that distance, other hands waiting for the baton.
Sunday, April 24, ballroom dancer Adrianne Haslet says in an interview, “I will crawl across the finish line, literally crawl, if it means I finish it.” This becomes my mantra on my log runs, whenever I have to stop alongside a canal and stretch out my back, whenever I want to just give up and walk. You have two good legs. Get on with it.
Fueled by excitement, a slight downhill slope, and a desire to get the baton back on schedule, I’ve started out too fast, at 9:15 almost my 5K pace. I need to dial back. The pinched nerve in my shoulder is killing me, and shifting my water bottle and the baton awkwardly between hands doesn’t help. Somewhere east of mile 2 I melt down spectacularly, miles from anyone and anywhere. I’d like to say that I draw inspiration from the runners injured horribly in the bombings, fighting their way back to mobility. The fact is my brain is too addled by the heat and exertion to be inspired. I pull myself together and go on simply because it’s the only thing to be done.
May 25, a link for something called One Run For Boston pops up in my Facebook news feed. The link takes me to an audacious plan to run a cross-continent relay, raising money for The One Fund Boston. The question isn’t am I going to do it; of course I’m going to do it. The question is, who can I convince to take a day off midweek and carpool up north with me? I elect to spam my teammates from March’s Ragnar del Sol Relay, and Cicely responds. The legs around Flagstaff have already filled up, leaving empty the stretch east of town, across the Rez. Still, it’s northern Arizona; it’ll be cooler than Phoenix, right?
At the three mile mark Cicely & I swap places and she runs the next three. I munch Pringles and blast the A/C, leapfrogging her a mile at a time. She dumps her water bottle over her head and refills it at each mile. “I’m not carrying my cell phone,” she says, “There’s no reception out here anyway.”
To non-runners, responding to the violence at the Boston Marathon by running 3300 miles across the country must seem like telling someone, “Stop hitting me or I’ll poke myself in the eye with a stick.” What we’re really saying is: “We are strong. We are undaunted. And we will support our injured long after the media spotlight has faded away.” How do you fight terrorism? Don’t be terrorized.
Replenished, I take the next 2.5 miles at an easier pace. There’s a little bit more scenery on this stretch, as I pass by an escarpment and through a wash. Far off I can see the Leupp water tower, and just concentrate on getting there. Hallelujah, even before that I spy the little orange Prius parked at the side of the road.
Reading the stories of the other runners in the relay, I feel a little out of place. Holly, in the stage before Amy’s, ran Boston this year. Thomas, the second stage following mine, was a few hundred yards from the finish when the explosions happened. I’m just a dorky mid-packer who’s willing to drive three hours to run five miles.
The final 2.5 miles are Cicely’s. I pull in at the gas station/general store that, along with the water tower, signifies the town of Leupp. Danny and Kate are there with the Stinkmobile, along with Mario, who’s driven up from Phoenix with his family, and Thomas, who’s driven down from Tuba City with his. As we’re waiting, a big dust devil rolls down the road, engulfs us. “What causes that?” asks Kate. “Just the wind,” I say.
Living the One Run Facebook page has been like being a single neuron in a huge mind with a single intent. We watch the ticker, willing the final vacant stages full, then follow the baton’s progress as it tracks from Venice Beach east and deep into the Mojave, occasionally departing from its path as a runner takes a wrong turn or has to re-route around some unforeseen obstacle. The photos filter in: killer hills; a clandestine midnight snap of a runner sliding under barbed wire, no explanation given; twenty dollars and a note reading “God bless ya’ll” tucked under the wiper of the Stinkmobile; lightning, bridges, cows, tornados. Stories are shared, transport provided for runners who need it, flying or driving in from all corners of the country. People who’d been in Boston, people who knew someone who’d been in Boston, people who’d never come closer to a BQ than five and a half sweaty miles on a remote Arizona highway.
Cicely runs in, hands the baton to Mario; photos are snapped, and he’s off, heading on down Leupp Road away from Leupp, moving the baton closer to the New Mexico border where it will cross early next morning. There’s a little time in the shade of the gas pump canopy for some more photos with the backup baton and a few laughs; then the Stinkmobile, Thomas and his family depart eastward in pursuit. Stage 55 is over. Cicely and I grab some sodas and head back towards Phoenix.
Two things I’ve learned:
It’s not all about you. You’re a small part of a huge swath of humanity, whose stories and struggles make your petty troubles pale in comparison.
It is all about you. That huge swath of humanity is made up of individuals like you, and your story and their stories make up the greater story. It’s all about us.
Mesa, Arizona, USA
Just a quick little writeup this time. Thanksgiving day dawned bright and sunny with a forecast high in the low 80s – by the 9:00 AM starting time the chill had certainly gone out of the air, and I was glad I’d gone with short sleeves and shorts! Organization was excellent as always. My only complaint might be that the PA wasn’t really audible over the hubbub of the crowd at the start; maybe an extra speaker or two along the corral wouldn’t have gone amiss, now that this has grown to be the “biggest turkey trot in Arizona”.
Even though this is a 10K, it’s billed as a family fun run so the field was large and motley. Apart from the turkey mascot running as a 45 min pacer, there were several people sporting turkey hats, and one guy in a tartan kilt – I guess there were probably Scottsmen at the first Thanksgiving? There was quite a bit of dodging and rubbing of elbows over the first mile or two, but an overall festive atmosphere.
I’ve been taking it easy on my speed work for months, so I really had to push myself to keep my pace up where it needed to be for my goal of bringing this in under 1 hour. As we reached the 6 mile mark the timer read 58 something, and knowing that it had taken over a minute to cross the start line I poured on the speed (well, “poured” may be a bit of an overstatement, maybe “trickled”) and squeaked across the finish in 59:48! Woot! That’s a PR by 59 seconds!
Afterwards I swung by my gym, which was on the way home, and sat in the Jacuzzi for a while. What a great morning!