I’m riding in the car on the way back from the race while Chris and Renee talk. My entire body aches, my lungs hurt and I’m hacking up hard pieces from my lungs. It’s hard to breathe, hard to move and yet I am happy. My mind replays the weekend over and over and over again…
I made it joyfully to the finish to hear “Howdy” Bob yell at me, “that’s what I’m talking about!” It was long and rocky day on an up-and-down course full of elevation gain – it was exhausting, crazy fun, I finished in something like 12:27 (official results to come) and I loved every minute of it. I had fun with Taryn and Renee and Chris, and found the world’s BEST pacer in jeff. See Taryn’s blog for pictures and posts from the weekend.
The mysteries of Zane Grey revealed: Angie finally runs the first 33 miles of the course (after three years of crewing for fellow runners and one year sweeping the final 17 of the 50mile course)…
We pack up the car, pick up Renee and head up to Payson. I am excited to see the landslide that closed Highway 87, the road from Phoenix to Payson, a month ago. We make it to Payson in about four hours, stop at Safeway for ice and extra groceries and find our way to Camp Tontozona, aka race headquarters to check in and find our cabin.
We unload into the cabin and sit for a few minutes on the deck, watching kids multiply exponentially on the field below while waiting to Taryn to arrive. We find out after Taryn arrives that dinner is already being served, so we make our way up to the dining hall. We enjoy pasta, bread and salad while catching up with Chuck and meeting his friends before heading down to the field for the pre-race meeting, birthday celebration and cake, where I meet David from Georgia, who is running his first ultra (he trained by for this crazy hilly course by running on the interstate!). We listen to ultrarunning legend Karsten Solheim tell us to *read every sign* that we come to, look for the silver diamonds and remember that we are running the *Highline Trail* - number 31. Yellow ribbon marks the good trail; stay off the trails marked with blue ribbons.
We finish prepping for the morning, I open a goody bag from Taryn for my birthday (Glamour and chocolate and beer and body butter and my favorite – Trader Joe’s chocolate Jo-Jos!!!), I show Taryn the newest style in arm warmers – a pair of Chris’s socks cut off at the toes – before heading to bed.
By 3:30 am, I can’t sleep anymore. I am awake and ready. I hear 50 milers leaving headquarters for their 5 am start. I toss and turn and talk to Chris when he wakes up, only he tells me he’s not *that* awake yet. So I get up and start preparing. Renee is up and getting ready. Taryn and Chris get up shortly after that. We start taking pictures and end up leaving much later than anticipated. Renee remembers my yogurt after we leave, so we end up going back to the cabin so I can eat breakfast. We speed to the start and arrive about 15 minutes before race start to grab our race bibs, use the porta-potties and take a couple quick pictures. I realize the only pink fuzzy thing on me is my hairtie. Runners migrate to the start, someone yells “GO!” and I’m not ready yet – my satellites haven’t been located on my Garmin. I say so out loud, causing a nearby runner to laugh.
Nervous chatter fills the trail as we start out uphill, jockeying for position (more me letting everyone by). About a half-mile in, everyone takes a turn to the left at a junction, but Renee reads the sign that says Highline Trail is a half-mile to the right. We yell down the left trail, but no one hears us. Everyone but the last five runners have taken the wrong turn. I spend the first five miles in third to fifth place. We went up, up, up the first hill then down, down, down the other side. When the first of the fast 50kers caught up with me, I yelped, startling him. Oops.
Turns out the 50kers went off course anywhere from 2-3 miles. There are no yellow ribbons anywhere, but plenty of silver diamonds. The next three miles into the aid station, I am continually passed by the faster people who had gone off course. I am enjoying the company and the feeling of seeing other people on the trail. I am a little tired already; this is surprising, but I figure it’s just part and parcel of the ultra package. The back of my right knee hurts and I take an Aleve, hoping it doesn’t do as much damage to my body as Ibuprofen or Tylenol would during a race. I’m eating my sports beans every 30 minutes and enjoy talking with Lindsay, who is attempting her first ultra after running a marathon. Her husband is in fifth place after taking the early detour. There are a number of nice runnable sections in miles 1-8, in addition to the big hill. I am so grateful to the volunteers who have cleared the downed
trees off the trails.
At the Geronimo aid station (mile 8), I am happy to see Chris and Taryn. I am 20 minutes off pace, but not too worried. I leave my sock arm warmers with them, decline more sunscreen, get more fuel and put my pack back on only to realize that my back is sopping wet. WTF? Turns out the volunteer who lectured me on needing to drink more water as she filled my bladder with a jug of water poured said water into my *pack* not my *bladder*. I pull the bladder out and dump about 16 oz of water out of my pack. I’m worried that the amount of water on my back will cause major chafing. I pull out the bodyglide and hope that helps. She apologizes profusely as she refills my bladder, Chris gives me kisses, Taryn gives me hugs, I thank the volunteers and I’m off for the next section.
I take the volunteer’s advice and start drinking more water. The trail is going up, up, up and I am very tired. I am cramping (due to the antibiotics, I started a week early, dammit!) and I take a second Aleve. I make a couple pit stops and three guys who went off course early on catch up with me. They aren’t really sure which way to go, and I help them at each spot that there’s a question as to where to go. There are no yellow ribbons on this section either. One of the guys has a tattoo on his calf that says 140.6, so I assume he’s an Ironman. The Ironman and I drop the other two guys and I start babbling about how normally I’m a back-of-the-packer who is lonely and while I feel really bad for those who went off trail, I am enjoying the company of being passed and seeing people on the trail. I don’t think he likes hearing that and he picks up his pace to drop me. But he is slower on the downhills than I am so I keep catching him. He also isn’t sure where the trail goes and asks for directions often. I point and we keep moving forward. I babble on some more about I’m usually not a very good trailfinder, yet I seem to be finding the trail today, which is so cool! I don’t think he likes hearing that either. He is demoralized from losing the trail early on, and he keeps muttering about how this isn’t a run, and there are too many rocks, and this isn’t fun. I joke about how the rocks apparently multiply every year, and he doesn’t respond. It takes me awhile to realize that my babbling is probably adding to his mental fatigue and demoralization. Ironman, if you are out there and find this report, I am so sorry about my babbling, I didn’t mean to add to your misery, and I hope you are feeling better and come back to do the race next year!
We arrive at “the ditch”, a washout that is hard to navigate. I figure out how to get down into the creek, up the creek, and over to the trail on the other side. Three guys have caught up and follow behind me and then I take off up the trail, leaving them behind.
I am by myself for awhile, climbing up and down slowly. I figure I’m just out here to complete it; no worries. Until I look at my watch and realize I have less than two hours to go 5 miles and at the pace I am maintaining, there is no way I’ll make the cutoff at Washington Park (mile 17). This is so stressful for me; I can’t stand the thought of jeff coming all the way out from SoCal only for me to DNF at mile 17 so that he can’t run with me! I decide that even though I’m exhausted and tired and ready to quit, there is NO FREAKING WAY I’m going to DNF this race due to not making the cutoff. I am in enough shape to make the cutoff, dammit!!
I speed up and go as fast as I can, so stressed and worried and ready to cry. It’s like something switched inside me. I am not out here for a jaunt in the woods. I am out here to run this race and to COMPLETE it. Which means speeding up. My pack is chafing my shoulder where my tank top ends and my underarms are chafing. I need to change my shirt at the aid station, but I’m not sure I’ll have enough time to do so. I am seriously freaking out.
I make it to Washington Park with 15 minutes to spare. I am off pace by a cumulative hour and 20 minutes. Jeff is there and I am excited! I change my shirt (ahhhh) and an EMT gives me his bandana thingie that has gel in it and ties around my neck to keep me cool. I look like a cowboy Miami Dolphins cheerleader.
Jeff wets my shirt, I put on some extra bodyglide, grab some potato chips and m&ms, thank the volunteers and head out.
I quickly realize I left my handheld water bottles at the aid station. I run back and yell, panicked, at Chris, who grabs them and passes them to me.
I have eaten too much at the aid station and my stomach is nauseous. The trail goes up, up, up and I am slow. Jeff tells me to take it easy, just hike it out. We immediately fall into a comfortable, fun conversation and he keeps my mind off my pains. I fill him in on the day so far and he tells me I’m looking good. He can’t stop exclaiming over the beauty of the run, even as we run through miles of burned out forest and grasslands. The views are expansive, mountains upon mountains tripping over each other on the horizon.
We finally get yellow ribbons marking the trail, which really help. After a few miles, I am ready to speed up the pace. We shuffle along, goofy kids, laughing at silly jokes, singing songs that get stuck in our heads, sharing stories of similar childhoods. We laugh and giggle, I moan occasionally when my knee hurts on steep downhills, we crawl over and under downed trees, cross streams – getting ourselves wet at every crossing to help keep our temperatures down. We play leapfrog with Rachel, another runner from Tucson who got lost early on.
After sixish miles, we see Hell’s Gate at mile 24. What a welcome sight! My knee and lower back are cramping as we approach and I have to walk instead of run (er, shuffle). I am off pace by a cumulative total of an hour and 50 minutes. The volunteers at this aid station are fantastic, helping me with my dirty feet, encouraging me to take some Endurolytes for the cramping, telling me to put bodyglide on my socks instead of my toes to keep the dirt from sticking to me. They’re out of ice, but have plenty of ice water. I sit for awhile and enjoy the view and company but decline any food they offer. I ask for an espresso hammer gel; they raid one volunteer’s personal stash to give me two. Awesome! I thank the volunteers profusely. Finally, I’m ready to tackle the final nine miles.
I quickly realize I have left both my handhelds at the aid station (again!). This time, Jeff returns to the aid station to grab them for me. We set off for our final stretch.
“Cake, Angie, Cake!” Jeff tells me time and time again as I count down the miles left. It’s easy; no sweat! This reminds me of lyrics and I start singing:
“Reluctantly crouched at the starting line,
Engines pumping and thumping in time
The green light flashes
The flag goes up
Churning and yearning
They race for the cup…”
And on and on through the song. Jeff joins me and we laugh and giggle and sing some more. We wonder if we’ll make it in before sunset and guess that we’ll hit the finish line at 7:30.
But this section is easier than the last section; much less steep – both up and down. This is much more runnable (er, shuffable) (um, fast walkable?) and we move quicker than expected. I realize we’ll beat 7 pm. I am joyful and dancing down the trail. My garmin tells me it is low on batteries so I expect it to turn off at any time; I instruct Jeff to remind me to eat every 30 minutes. But the garmin doesn’t die and we continue to count down the miles. I am in pain and any steep downhill is hell on my knee. I move slowly down these sections; thankfully there aren’t many.
I tell Jeff that the knee and back pain makes the tooth pain insignificant! I look for the silver lining each time I start to complain about my right knee hurting. At least my left knee doesn’t! I come to a dead stop at a log across the trail. I’ve climbed over dozens of these today, but my brain is dead and I can’t compute that there is a log across the trail that I must climb over. Each time I stop in the middle of the trail when my brain can’t compute how to handle the obstacle (downed tree, eroded trail), Jeff almost knocks into me; he’s too busy watching the views and enjoying our time on the trail!
We hear a radio beep; it’s a ham operator. He tells us we’ve got about less than a mile to “Lifeguard One,” another radio operator, then two miles to the finish from there.
We cross the drainage (the 1000th since the start???) and climb to the next ridge to find Lifeguard One. “473 and pacer!” I announce happily. He informs us we have two miles to the finish. “Cake, Angie, Cake!”
And it is. The espresso hammer gel has given me yummy fantastic fuel and the siren call of the finish line is beckoning me. I am dancing down the trail, picking up pace. In the last mile, I start running (er, shuffling) again, and I pass David, the runner from Georgia. He’s going to finish! Jeff tells me this is the longest amount of time he’s ever been on his feet; he finished Twin Peaks 50miler in 6:05.
I realize we may beat 6:30 pm. I see a paved road and our final descent. I pick up the pace and Jeff tells me to be careful on my knee. “I know,” I say carelessly as I plummet down, down, down. I see people and let out a primal yell; Jeff joins me. Bob yells, “That’s what I’m talking aBOUT!” And I cheer. That’s what I’ve been waiting for. “I ran 32 miles to hear that yell!” I shout below. Chris and Renee and Taryn are cheering and taking photos and I make the final turn and make it to the finish line.
“I DID IT!!!” I yell as I tackle Chris, almost knocking him over with a hug. We get photos at the clock at the finish, which says 2:28 (total cumulative off pace amount of time) instead of 12:28. I open the Arrogant Bastard Ale that Taryn brought me and I eat three of MaryAlice’s turkey wraps.
I get my finisher’s chair and (bright yellow) technical shirt (to join the seat shield (score!) and visor we got for registering for the race). I give Jeff big hugs before Chris returns him to his car at mile 17ish, and us girls head into town for dinner at Chili’s, which I can’t finish, although I adore my hot chocolate.
I don’t sleep well that night; I’m in pain and my stomach is upset. But the next day is beautiful; we pack up the cars, give Taryn big hugs and head home.
Me running two ultras two years ago wasn’t a fluke. I can still do it. This was one tough-ass mofo of a run and I completed it. Joyfully, painfully, happily.