Anyway, Larry and I had a bunch of miles on SouthWest, so the tickets were free, the car - cheap, the gels on sale, I dug the closet out and recycled/reused all my old stuff accumulated over the last years, we packed and flew to Phoenix. We were lucky and with help of Liza Howard landed a stay with one of the co-RD Jay Danek in a "cabin" - a 2800 square feet wood home perched on a cliff overlooking mountains. The roommates were new friends (besides Jay) Tommy and Ricky, and the fun we had the night before, chatting, laughing, breaking rules of the "cabin" and sharing stories, was probably the best I've had in a decade and half of staying. Tells the story of how not prepared, though very scared I was.
Before we even got to the house, we helped Noah (another co-RD) help set up the start line sign, a monstrosity in its own right.
As unprepared as I was, with 2 20 mile road runs (flat) and 6 days of 28 miles hiking, I tried not to tell anyone about my upcoming adventure, until the day before we left Larry texted me: "Oh, shit". Jay Danek resurrected his blog and posted the race predictions. Yeah, we all know what he said, right? As soon as I got home, I emailed him warning he should prepare to die. I got a slew of texts and FB messages from people now knowing about the fact I was going and wishing me well - but it also put unnecessary pressure on me. Because despite all well intentions and beliefs in me, I knew being stubborn is not enough to finish this race (may be another), as well as being stubborn is something I don't want to do anymore in light of my recent health issues and a loss of ability to run (run well, run long, and at the beginning of the 2-year ordeal, run at all). Alas, there was nothing I could do but chuck it off and get on with life.
Race morning came, I hung in the car until 5 minutes before, and off we went walking up the first climb.
Unlike Jay predicted, I didn't study the course this time. You know, I am 2-plus years removed from racing, and was going just for a finish. I did read the trail description and did create somewhat of a "pace chart" for gels allocations, water carrying options and Larry's sanity. What I didn't account for is that in those 2 years I also gotten older, and my eyesight diminished, so I couldn't read a thing of that chart taped to a water bottle!
I won't be going into much details about the course besides saying it is going up or down constantly, mostly on broken rock, either very loose of all size and shape, or sort of slabs. Sometimes you get dirt (first section actually had quiet some of that). Later you get a lot of tall grass chest-high, covering rocks, roots and trenches (and definition of a trail itself). Mostly exposed to the sun and 90F dry heat at altitude. There are trees with shade too, when you're lucky. Plenty of beautiful views, if you can peel your eyes off the rocks and look around.
What I will say though is that I am pretty satisfied - proud, if I may say so - of how I managed myself during the first half of the run/hike. I stayed within my efforts and let everybody pass who hung on my heels if I felt like being pushed, walked so much that when the slight downhills came and I was "forced" to jog, I was almost tired and upset (took me out of my element), spent some time with Jim S, Kirk Apt and some other guy, then on the last climb to the first AS at 10 miles (a ridiculous hand-over narrow ledges climb, may I add) pulled away and happily made it to refill my water. Got out, saw Dave James cheering us one, and on to the next stretch.
A word on Dave James. Those who follow the ultrarunning seeing him in the last 6 years or so, rising fast, then mostly DNF'ing almost all his long(er than 50M) races after taking out fast. The guy has heart. We met in 2009 when I was set up to crew for him, and our friendship grew from there with ups and downs. His story of life is touching, his commitment to Team RWB is serious, and he (and, apparently, Timmy Olson, along with a handful of oh, so many ultrarunners) is dealing with what now is coming out as overtraining syndrome. Anyway, at the pre-race meeting he said to me words which made me cry - and stayed with me for the full duration of my 74 miles of trying to prove something to myself. While I DNF'ed (here, you don't have to read to the end), I am grateful for the time I spent in this sport and for the people I met - those I am inspired by, and those whom I inspired.
Anyhow, I came to Geronimo, eventually, at mile 20 or so, where Larry waited for me as the first stop, switched my pack and went on the Furnace Stretch - an almost 10 miles of open rock terrain in the middle of the day. This is where the whole "I managed myself awesome" pride was glowing - 4 bottles of water, slow down, never wiping a smile off my face. I entered Washington park AS at 50k mark happiest camper, as the carnage was sitting in chairs gloomy. I truly was happy at that moment, and it wasn't pretending. I almost believed I could do it.
I spent some time reloading my pack - and giving orders, something I do very well, though do scare some uninitiated people (hello, Liza and Jay), and left for the 20-some mile loop.
While the whole section wasn't that bad (probably the most benign), it started and ended with a mile climb under powerlines, part of which was straight up on "Mountain threw up some random rock over dirt and its loose nature and the degree of climb makes you suffer". But then there was 4.5 M of jeep road, Houston Brothers AS, 8 miles of a nice dirt single track, some down, very little up, and at least 2 M of flats, which I actually - dig this! - ran! Well, shuffled, but whatever. Pinchot cabin AS, and out for 9 M more single track, sort of rolling, with night falling very fast, literally, one minute you see, one minute - you don't. Headlamp on at 6:30 pm, and again, as I said, this section wasn't too bad - until you came back to the powerline, now as a drop down, which was worse then going up. Took me full 40 min to hobble to Washington park for that mile (or so). In another news, my stomach had forgotten how to consume endless gels for hours, and began refusing it, so I went from 3 gels an hour to 2 - and was feeling an accumulation of fatigue setting in, along with not enough energy consuming.
I was still optimistic when entered that mile 54-ish AS, and did a shirt change, gels re-load (taking out some as I knew I won't be consuming many), tried to eat some Ramen, picked up my hiking poles (another best decision!), and went to Hells Gate. They saved me form so many near-falls I lost count!
Yeah, this was exactly what the name implies. That 9.5 mile section was the one baring high grass covering trail (though they did have reflective marking tape, you sort of had to look up for that, what made you trip in the said grass over rocks, and still loose trail, which didn't exist to begin with). The canyons were steep with descends and ascends, the rock beat up your feet, I was eating gels very seldom, but operating my poles and feeling quite alright still. The AS came earlier than I expected by the full 15 min, which made me happy - but the next section ruined it. Not only the "trail" continued as described above (how could I forget this from Zane Grey? Oh, yeah, it was daylight, and Spring, meaning grass wasn't there, just rock), we merged onto Myrtle trail, which took us straight up (through the grass and the rock underneath) for so long, I thought that peak in the sky will never come. Fighting a number of bushes left me with bruises and scratches on my legs, and as we entered the top and hit the road, I didn't have anything left to even shuffle next 4 miles of jeep road to Buck Springs. Nor did I eat.
And that was the end of any kind of energy that still carried me. I still had some attitude of a finish, walking well, picking up my drop bag, eating Ramen served by Noah, and walking out - and then I strained my eyes to actually read that stupid chart taped to my bottle, and try to make any sense of it. It took me a good 5 minutes of squinting my eyes and doing math to realize I am pretty far gone and slowing down, I will make it to Washington park for the third time less than an hour under cut off if I am lucky (and start finally eating, damn it), and then I still face some 20 miles, first through the Furnace section described above, in the same heat of the day, but now dragging, and that wonderful climb of 2400 feet in 2 miles at mile 99, with 6 M downhill over rock...and 2 mile road to the finish in town. And I said to myself: 'Why?".
Between the fear of a full return of adrenal fatigue I had just began clawing my way out, literally, in July, screwed up feet (that had to keep me going on all those steep rocky ups and downs through 3 canyons on that stretch), and still not eating, I resolved to stop at Pinchot AS, mile 74-ish. I even stopped some runner, bummed a cell phone and called Larry to say exactly that. Once that was done, the next 2 miles took me an hour - yes, I am fully aware most of it was just simply giving up. I was pretty angry I didn't stop at mile 54. Because, really, 20 mile runs and 30 mile hikes only prepare you for that distance, and that's why I felt so good there still. And that I didn't need to prove anything, nor am I interested to "walk it in", "not be a quitter", f#%$ up my poor body that is not trained - or even hormonally normal yet - and screw up the future I still do want to have - the future with my health, my fitness, my running, my adventures, and potentially, yes, ultrarunning.
I also thought of Larry, who'd have to wait for me, under beating sun, and see me to the finish, in 35:45, what means we would leave Pine at 6 pm, with me dirty and dead, and him, exhausted, driving 2 hrs to Phoenix, hungry (because who goes to eat like that?), looking for hotel in the dark, crashing at 9 pm, hardly showering (and still hungry, because all the places are closed), just to be at the airport at 5:30 am. That was not fare to him and did not make sense.
And yes, with age, things sort of have to make sense to me now. I am getting softer. Wiser? Kinder to myself and those who participate in my life?
...Pinchot AS does not allow drops. It wasn't in a race manual, and I set there in shock for 15 min, until deciding to "walk it out" on some dirt road - a 12 mile walk out, mind you, and still ending with Powerline rocky drop. Technically, it was the same distance as going to Houston brothers AS and out the race way, but I couldn't bare being "in the race" anymore. I was also afraid that if I stay on the course, I may change my mind and go all the way, something I couldn't afford and really didn't want to. How screwed up is that thinking? After 2 miles, a radio guy on a truck picked me up, and I cried of happiness. As I hobbled down powerlines, sliding on my ass and praying not to break my legs in this last mile, I saw Larry coming up - just as I hoped - and we hugged. He is truly the best man for me, supporting whatever decision I make - whether it go for a nasty 100 mile finish untrained, or quit the attempt. (p.s. this Zane Grey course served as our first face-to-face meet back in 2007, so here, how 'bout that!?)
Coming to the cabin by 9 am allowed us to shower, we stopped at the finish line to thank Jeremy the RD and apologize for screwing up the predictions (Jay's wrap-up post), sort of ate at Danny's, drove to Phoenix, saved the mood by browsing the yarn store, and crashed in the hotel for 3 hrs. More or less recovered, dinner was eaten with pleasure, and a lot of talking ensured.
Could I have done things different;y? What if I forced myself to eat? Utilized my well-known hard-headed attitude? Had Larry come and pace me for the loop? Walked with a handful of guys I let pass once made a resolution? What if I stuck to my original idea of doing Pumpkin Holler 100 in October, more recovered from Tahoe trip, and on the dirt rolling roads, where power-walking could have easily brought me to a 28 hr finish without ill effects of heat, altitude and messed up feet? What if???
But at the end of the day, we can't rewind the tape. Nor should we. What happened was exactly what needed to - because it put things in place. One can NOT finish a mountain 100 miler while not doing any specific training (I am fit, I am just not ultrarunning fit) in good health or spirit. And "just walking it in", with no disrespect to all of those who are happy and satisfied with that - does not make me happy.
Time to move on. Until my body cooperates fully, I will not be attempting long training runs. But in the past 2 years I did find some pieces of myself that separate my running identity from just being me. I am going to keep soul-searching for more of those. While hopefully still running.:)