So I headed to mom’s Friday night (note: mom is the very woman that keeps me going as her house is perfectly located between all VHTRC training events. Oh and mom makes outstanding pre-race dinners and in the past, has been sweet enough to touch my sweaty, muddy, dirty underwear and throw it in the wash for me. Therefore, she is getting the proverbial shout-out here on my blog…) Saturday morning, I was off on my way, in the dark for what promised to be a beautiful day for a February run. I had planned on two loops because I needed some night navigation/climbing work. And I wanted the bad-ass label of being someone who went back out. You see, because virtually everyone does one loop, the partying in the lot starts with the first person to complete 25 miles. This is typically a very fast, very good, and very smart VHTRCer who has nothing to prove to anyone and can run, party and look awesome when everyone else starts streaming back in. In short, anyone but me. Knowing this, the plan was to run in, ignore the hootin’ and hollerin’ (we ARE after all, 7 miles from the WVa border) change clothesshoessocks, shove food in, refill water and leave within 20 minutes. That is the magical timeframe because around the 21st minute, you start realizing very quickly how assnine it is, to subject yourself to doing this difficult run, again. I’m pretty sure this is why most sitcoms are around 21 minutes or more when you remove the commercials. Because you can’t. stop. watching. the next one…
Anyway, we take off for loop one. It had snowed three days before so there was about 4 inches of snow everywhere. Figuring that snow = cold, I took my new Northface jacket, shorts over leggings, wool socks, two pairs gloves and a hat. Within about 2 minutes, I took off my New Northface jacket, shorts, wool socks, two pairs of gloves and hat. And then resigned myself to carrying that with me because well, it might get cold! (the high was 61) It’s easy to get hot even when there is snow on the ground and the temps are in the low 30s because the first climb comes around mile 1. And while it is steep, it’s not the steepest. But I don’t know this yet. So I attack it with great energy only to get smacked down by the trail gods. For every step up, my foot slides a bit in the snow. Consequently, it takes a while and I suddenly realize that my fast pace will slaughter me before I even make 5 miles if I don’t back off. So I do and manage to fall in line with Bob Combs and Mike Dobies. As a second shout-out, these two men are unreal - just gods of east coast ultra running with well over 40 marathons and 100 ultras between the two of them. And both are under 50. In order to appreciate the world of ultras, here’s a photo of them:
MD: “how many are you doing today, Emily?”
Me: “oh maybe two.. I don’t know. This is a tough course.”
MD: “well you have to do two”
Me: “yeah I know I should but my knees are achey and my mom’s waiting for me and….”
MD: “Ok. Then when you’re done with your one loop, I’d suggest sending Gary an email telling him you can’t make Barkley. Because if you can’t commit to doing two, now, on this beautiful day, on a course that is EASIER than Barkley, you shouldn’t waste anyone’s time”
KA-BOOM! That hurt. So I set my mind to it, and we continued on. In all fairness, he was right. This was my shot. This was my opportunity this was my… oh hell, what is THAT?!?!?
That would be the second steep climb (the camera is pointing straight UP), still not to be confused with the “really hard climb” coming up between Big Bald and Camp Todd which was 1200 feet of climb in 3/4 of a mile. Think about that. That’s like going up 120 stories in a city block. So this little number is a little less steep with a longer distance to cover that climb. Again, I don’t know this climb is coming, the one pictured above is daunting enough. I make it over to the road, at which point I realize I’ve gone 10 miles in 3 hours. And I’m beat. Keep in mind, too, that these steep climbs up have corresponding steep climbs down. It’s like yoga for your feet - for every “yin” (climb up) that shoves your foot so far forward you’re doing downward dogs in your shoes, you get to “yang” that shit the other way and do some sweet ballet toes. Those achey knees are a distant memory…
So we make it through and the trail flattens out towards the last 8 miles with only a moderate elevation gain and loss of several thousand feet over those miles (seriously.. I’m not being sarcastic.) Nothing too major. But I know that climb to Bald will haunt me and I will, once again, get to experience that joy, only in the dark…
We make it back which is easy at this point. There seems to be some sort crazy party going on and you’d think by the amount of noise flowing out of the lot, the cowboys and the redskins were playing at the trail head. I see food boxes, tupperware containers of treats, cases of beer. Yes, these very smart people have done their loop, paid their dues and are now celebrating the end of a vicious trail marathon. I, on the other hand, just got the crap beat out of me by Evander Holyfield and have asked, no, begged, the ref to let me back in the ring only this time, blindfolded. Ugh. I am sad. I zip back to my car and frantically start changing knowing that, if I don’t hurry, in minutes, I will be sucked into the wonderful pleasurable vortex of party-central. My feet! Oh god, they’re scary! Why?!! Oh, right. The “stream” crossing. Forgot about that - at mile 16, between the hellacious climb #1 and the less hellacious climb #10, there is a “stream” to cross. Mike D takes a quick glance and says screw it, and wades in, mid-calf deep. Ah, shit. Shittyshitshit. Ok, no problem. I do that same thing, except some small part of my brain decided that my left side was mighty warm and it threw my body into the “creek” and drenched me. Or else it was a very slippery rock. Either way, I ended up lugging that creek water in my shoes through the last 10.5 miles. They were miserable.
Yuck! new socks, new shoes, lots of vaseline and lambs wool and I’m on my way removing most of my clothing and adding in some lights. It’s hard to leave the parking lot - we get lots of cheers but then again, it’s really easy to cheer on someone else when you’ve got a beer in your hand. We start out again, same direction, and we’ve now picked up Pat and Mitchell. Turns out we were the only ones who went out on a second loop which some would call “a clue”. I am crabby. I’m tired, and I really want to be done and the thought of doing this shit again, once more, with feeling, makes me throw myself a pity party. Then Pat starts yakking about Barkley. Oh god, why?!?! Why must you talk about the stupid effing race that has me out ON THIS LOOP?! Why why why?? I abhor that race right now - it’s killing my party mojo! It’s stupid, I won’t finish it, it’s harder than this and GAH, STFU, man! But then the sun starts getting low and the birds are out and I realize that I really do love it out here. I’ve been waging an internal battle for the past few months - I love marathoning but I really love ultra-marathoning. My body aches, my feet are blistered, my ankles are swollen (they really are right now from the previous loop’s rendition of the off-broadway play, “Ankle Samba”) I’m half out of water but I, what? What? WHAT?!?! Oh !#$^%&^&*^&^. WATER! I only brought half a camelback of water and I drained my last one and then some. WHHHHHHHA!!!!!Ok, so I’m really content because it’s beautiful and the snow has melted and it’s calming and there’s no bad news on CNN but how could I have done that?!?! No water. Crap. Oh well. Keep going I suppose, I can drink from the “creek” at 16 and hopefully avoid any gastro-crap.
The sun sets, it’s pitch black but then the moon rises. The beautiful trails with their flecks of winter color have disappeared and it’s now a symphony of black shapes rising up to the sky. It is, in short, breathtaking. The chatter among us dies down and we are all in our zone, illuminated only by small head lamps and mini-flashlights. I suddenly realize this is why people do 100 mile races. Yes, they want to see if they can finish them, but no one wants to run 100 miles. Not at once, when they could be in their beds, cozy and warm. But right now, there is a feeling of being one tiny, but integrated part of this outdoor wilderness. And it’s exciting. Of course, on the downside, all of the melted snow has turned the trails into mudpits. With each step, the sounds from my shoe makes sounds that mimic bean burrito night in the Childress household. It’s rather funny but slippery. And very messy. I end up with mud in my hair, on my face, somehow in my mouth. Blech! But it’s fun. Until my water runs out. At this point, Mitchell has quizzed each of us as to our plans for the night and realizes that I am the only one still wishing I had called it quits miles before. So I give in and agree to go back with him to the car by way of the road at mile 11. It’ll be 7 miles back so we’ll have a total loop distance of only 18 miles for this one, but we’ll have skipped the Big Bald climb and the extra 3.5 hours that Dobies predicted for loop 2. I knew that there was no way I could stay there until 2 am - my mother would wait up even though I told her not to. This way, I’ll hopefully get home at a “reasonable” hour and keep my running time under 15 hours. So we come to the road and I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Until I look down.
The road is a tiny gravel road and before I get to the road, I hear the sound of rednecks and spinning tires. What in the world is going on? It’s pitch dark, 8 pm, and I’m in the middle of nowhere. WHY DO I HEAR REDNECKS??? (clue: it’s because we’re 7 miles from the WVa border, silly!) I come flying down the trail and get dumped out on the road only to hear “WATCH OUT!!!” Its solid ice and I mean SOLID - I skid across, managing to stay upright. There are a good 2 inches of snow with half an inch of ice on top. The rednecks have a truck stuck in the mud (they were trying to drive on the shoulder and screwed-up) which they are attempting to extract with a 4 wheeler and another, smaller pickup. There are 4 of these intelligent creatures and confusion abounds. I look over and I see Dobies, Pat and Mitchell who have all come of the trail ahead of me splayed out on the trail watching the show. It IS hilarious. The can’t figure us out, and well, we don’t really want to figure them out. They offer “us boys a ride”and we politely decline. I know what happens to people who hop in pickups owned by West Virginians… We decide to split off here, Mitchell and I calling it a night, Dobies and Pat forging on. The road is pure ice. PURE ICE. Mitchell falls countless times, I almost go down, continually. We walk a while in silence then start chatting. This continues for a while. Headlights and the roar of an engine send us to the shoulder as a white surburban charges by. We wave, they wave. We continue. It is cold on this ice - I realize I’d give anything for those clothes I had piled on earlier. We round a corner and there are 3 people standing there. I say “Mitchell, do you see people over there?” “Yes, there are..” “Ok, phew, I’m not hallucinating. What do you think they’re doing?” “I don’t know - let’s ask” he says. We approach and as we do, we catch police lights. They are the drivers of the previous white surburban. I don’t think I can describe the scene but it involved 3 trucks, wrapped around each other, around several trees and hanging off the side of the cliff. I am in sheer disbelief that they are standing here talking to us. In all fairness, they are in just as much disbelief that two morons are standing in front of them, wearing very little, shivering, running an ultra-marathon on ice. It’s a very ethereal moment, to say the least. We bid goodbye, continue on our way. A little further on, we come upon a truck of, what else, rednecks, this time getting ticketed for something. They want to know what two freaks in tights and backpacks with lights on their heads are doing out at this hour on an icy road?!?! We continue. It’s now been so long our Garmins are dead. We’re going off feel and I’m trying to recall what direction we should go in order to come back around. I manage to navigate off the mountains that we photographed earlier and Mitchell’s half marked up map that only shows lines and trails. Somehow, suddenly, the parking lot appears. Only it’s quiet. And dark. And there are 4 cars. The game is over, FedEx field is empty. And it’s time to go home. So while I missed my goal of 51 miles, I squeezed in around 44.5 (the watch went at 43.7) Total time: 14 hours 28 minutes. If I hurried I’d be home when I told mom I would be. And as I walked in, there she was on the couch, waiting for me. And once again, like times before, she helped me out of my clothing, filthy and water-logged, offered to get me some food and then said goodnight. And I realized that I had made the right choice. I’ll save the late night for another time. My ankles had had enough.