B. Wright (with editorial assistance and fact checking from a Frog)
“Unafraid”—my feeling just prior to pushing the “Register” button on the Ultrasignup.com website for this year’s Castle Peak 100K.
Unafraid? Really? Does this have to be our DPMR motto? Wouldn’t “slightly lost and more than a little nervous” have been more accurate?—my feelings wandering around in Devils Oven, around mile 25.
“Indomitable”—my feeling just after pushing the “Register” button.
C’mon! Impossible to subdue or defeat? Couldn’t we have set the bar a little lower? Just a wee bit less than invincible? Crikey, who the hell am I, Batman? This is bull…—my feeling somewhere in Hole in the Ground, around mile 35.
“Facing the brunt of fate” —my steadfast resolve upon receiving the email confirmation of my registration.
A DNF at Van Norden is not the end of the world, lots of people bail here, it’s OK, next year I’ll be better prepared, it’s not worth risking an injury, god that beer is going to taste good! —my feeling when I hit the pavement at Soda Springs, around mile 43.
“Hey, look. A frog! Hello Mr. Froggy, what brings you out this fine evening? Who me? Yes, I know it’s dark. I’m just out for an evening run. Care to join me? I really need a pacer. Maybe you’re a princess, perhaps we should smooch.” —me, delirious, talking to myself, out loud, in the dark, alone, somewhere in Cold Stream Canyon, around mile 57.
I had been warned: “It will destroy you…”
That’s a direct quote from my phone text log about a week before the 2017 Castle Peak 100K. I’ll come clean; in a moment of weakness, a brief, flirtatious rendezvous with self-doubt, I realized I needed some support. A little comfort. Some words of wisdom. Some inspiration to get Bruce Wayne into that bat suit. You know, something to get me back into that “indomitable” frame of mind and, most importantly, I needed something to get me to register for the damn race. So I reached out to someone whom I thought would take care of me. Someone who would nurture me, reassure me, wrap me up in a warm blanket of confidence and kick-ass self assurance…someone who would stoke me way before the actual start line or in my case, the registration line….someone who shall remain anonymous until the next sentence. So I reach out and someone, Geoff Quine (530-386-6601 call him right now and tell him that he is cruel), sends me this text message, “It will destroy you…” Say it like Darth Vader would say it, breathing heavily into that weird black helmet. If text messages made noise, that is what this message would have sounded like.
Forgiveness is loosely defined as a deliberate act to let go of resentment or the desire for vengeance toward a person who has harmed you. At the start line, as I stumbled around in the dark, freezing my fanny off, cursing softly because I forgot to bring my number 89 bib, and thinking to myself, “…running is stupid…”, I was not planning to forgive Mr. Quine. I would not take the high road a la Mahatma Ghandi, I will make him suffer, there will be blood.
But I changed my mind at the Summit Lake aid station because Geoff had beef jerky.
What is it about aid stations? Aid Stations need to be capitalized. Aid Stations are like mounds of hot fudge underneath the whip cream on your chocolate sundae. Aid Stations are magic. They are like miniature finish lines; people are cheering, clapping, ringing cow bells, everyone is genuinely happy to see you. And then those cheerful people offer you M&Ms, ice water, salty potato chips, AND beef jerky! Aid Stations are a truly wonderful invention.
Except when they aren’t there. The Animal Aid Station was there and almost as glorious as the sun rise. Moondance, Andromeda, simply fabulous and right there when I needed them, fully stocked and full of friendly folks. Johnson Canyon? Something of a religious experience. Helen was like a winged angel, hovering over me and taking care of my drop bag and all of my sweaty needs. And then Summit Lake, truly a paradigm shifting respite (my apologies to all bovines who suffered on behalf of my craving for jerky.)
But Devils Oven? Where the hell (pun very much intended) was the Devils Oven Aid Station? Was is it a moving target? Receding another mile each time I thought I was getting close? I read my pre-race packet. I saw it there on the Aid Station chart. But now, nothing. An empty water bladder, nothing but sticky GU wrappers in my pockets, and with each passing mile I’m further and further away from Geoff’s beef jerky. I was right at the start line, running is stupid.
No, wait! There’s Gretchen! She’s hugging me, filling my water bladder, loading me up with everything I need to get to Castle Pass and beyond. I swear Aid Stations are magical places and the volunteers who hand out those potato chips are magical Aid Station Fairies.
I thought a lot about Aid Stations as I continued down Castle Pass and descended into Hole in the Ground. The Aid Stations became beacons for me, little lighthouses with bright shining bowls of M&Ms to guide me through the fog of over-exertion and hypoglycemia, “…only 6.2 more miles until Van Norden.”
Somewhere plodding around the haunted forests of Hole in the Ground, fatigued and more than a little fed up, I realized that two things were going to get me to the finish line at Cold Stream; Aid Stations and my watch. Aid Stations were nourishing my soul as well as my gut, and my watch was keeping me company. It was my Suunto pacer.
Any time I got lonesome or bored, both happened frequently in the Hole in the Ground section, all I needed to do was look at my watch and see my mileage. Counting down the miles to the next Aid Station would give me a profound sense of satisfaction, a definitive purpose, “…two more miles to bacon!” (Yes, the Hole in the Ground Aid Station had bacon. That’s reason enough to register for this race.) Counting down the miles to the finish line made me giddy, “… Geoff doesn’t know squat; as long as there is bacon, this will not destroy me…”
And then my watch quit. Dead battery. Dead battery? No more mileage log? No idea when my next meal will be? No idea how far the finish line is? Where the Fairies are? Curses! What’s next? A wrong turn? Blisters? Measles, mumps, rubella? Venomous snakes? Nope, knee pain. Knee pain? Yep, knee pain.
Or IT band pain? Whatever it was, it was debilitating. Around mile 40ish, I don’t know exactly because my friggin’ watch quit, I could only manage to run about 3/4 of a mile and then I had to walk. Pain. The oh-so-lovely pain that sends your confidence into a death spiral, “…that’s it, I’m finished. I’ll never make the cut-off times. Hell, I’ll never make it to Van Norden. I won’t even be able to quit, I’ll never get there…”
Walk, run. Walk, run. It was tedious. I was right, running is stupid. Worse yet, running and then walking is really stupid. I hate Geoff Quine. What time is it?
Eventually I made progress. I hit the pavement at Soda Springs. Wait, is that actually progress? Either way, I knew I could re-group at the Van Norden Aid Station. The Fairies would save me. Bacon! I had fresh socks waiting for me. I had a drop bag full of goodies to cheer me up. Everything was going to be ok. Only it wasn’t.
I collapsed into a chair at Van Norden and did…nothing. Yes, I ate a bit and drank a bit and I took off my shoes and socks, but then I just stared into my drop bag. I didn’t replenish my supplies (fresh undies, electrolyte tablets, ibuprofen, spare headlamp batteries, etc. etc.). I didn’t relish or even touch the peanut butter and jelly bagel I packed for myself, I didn’t even apply much needed (really, really needed) chafing cream to my netherworld. It was all right there in my drop bag, but I just stared into the bag. Contemplating? What? I have no idea what I was doing, but I did know that I was starting to feel really terrible. I wasn’t sick, but the Aid Station announcer was too loud. The music blaring out of the speakers was too loud. There were too many people, yet no one I knew. I truly felt awful. My knee hurt, my Suunto companion was dead, I had no idea where the Fairies went or where the next Aid Station was; my motivation to continue evaporated. Geoff was right. I hate Geoff.
But I certainly didn’t want to stay in that chair. Who likes that kind of music anyways? Horrible stuff. So I put fresh socks on, put my mostly unopened drop bag into a bin, and walked away from Van Norden. Luckily I had run the Palisades section of the course a few weeks prior with the DPMR course preview crew, so I knew what lay ahead. And in spite of the feeling of having the lead role in Night of The Living Dead, I was really excited to run (or walk) this section of the Castle Peak course. The sun was still fairly high in the sky so I knew that I would get through the Palisades in the light, and I knew I would get a grand sunset before I dropped into Cold Stream Canyon for the long slog to the finish line. So off I went, tail tucked neatly between my legs, but sincerely glad to be walking away from a DNF.
And then…cue the freaky music and Lon Chaney voice over…delirium set in. I guess. I really have no idea what happened. My knee pain receded, my homicidal thoughts about Geoff lessened, slightly. Whatever it was, I started feeling better. Well, ‘better’ may not entirely be accurate. Maybe I just didn’t care anymore about my dead companion or my knee pain or the lack of Fairies. Maybe it was delirium. I certainly didn’t care. The view from the Crow’s Nest ridge line, with Castle Peak far off in the distance and the afternoon light illuminating the Palisades, was simply breathtaking. Perhaps it was the walk/running that was taking away my breath, but either way the whole experience was exhilarating.
Climbing through the Palisades was incredible. The fixed ropes (pretty much the only time I used my arms), the texture of the rock, the fading sunlight, the whole scene was surreal. By the time I got across the ridge line and down to Roller Pass, Donner Peak was lit up with the most beautiful yellow/orange Alpenglow I have ever seen. Yes, delirium. But I didn’t care. If this was delirium, bring it on! I was running, sort of, I was mostly pain-free, sort of, and all these voices in my head! What fun to have so much company! Who needs a pacer when you have delirium?
And then it got dark. Curses! Running may not exactly be stupid but it certainly is a rollercoaster ride from hell. Holy highs and lows. You’re up! You’re down. You’re up! You’re down. It wasn’t that I minded running in the dark, it was running down a dry creek bed in the dark that was bad. I stumbled, I cursed, I walked, I ran, I cursed some more. I had a really nice, somewhat extended and entirely metaphysical conversation with a frog. Right there in the middle of the trail, staring at me with those big, froggy eyes. Not sure if that was a high point or a low point, but it certainly was entertaining. I guess it wasn’t all bad.
Of course it wasn’t all bad, there’s the Cold Stream Aid Station. The Fairies are back! And look, bacon! And grilled cheese sandwiches and quesadillas and ice cold coca-cola. I even liked the music! I was only sad that my froggy friend wasn’t able to join me. Best of all, Suunto be damned, the Fairies told me that I only had nine and a half miles to go to the finish line.
“NINE AND A HALF MILES!” I screamed at the top of my lungs! What the *#@$! Suddenly I was that kid at Walmart who throws himself to the ground screaming, kicking, crying, and throwing a fit that his parents can only marvel at, bewildered at the tiny mass wiggling on the floor. And, worst of all, digesting that horrible news, I desperately needed a change of underwear. No way could I make another nine and a half miles….
Five and one half miles. Only five and a half miles. I misunderstood them. The Fairies thought that was really funny. I made them promise me that they would say the same thing to the next runner, just to see if his or her reaction was as Academy Award winning as mine.
I don’t remember much about those last few miles. I passed a few people, reminisced a lot about all the Tuesday morning speed workouts we had in Cold Stream Canyon this season, I wondered what Froggy was up to, wondered if he missed me. And then I heard the freeway noise, my cue that I was indeed approaching the actual finish line.
Finish lines are funny places. The hoopla is wonderful, the cheers, cowbells, clapping, whistling, the high fives, the friendly, smiling faces…all truly amazing. But there is something bittersweet about finish lines. Yes, you’ve accomplished something extraordinary. You’ve overcome unbearable pains, deep lows and sky-rocketing highs. There is a tremendous emotional release. And there is beer. But when you cross that line the whole experience comes to a close. It ceases to be in the present. It becomes the past. For me, there is inherent sadness in that. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t turn around and run back up Cold Stream Canyon for all the beer in Peter Fain’s cooler. Unless, of course, Froggy needed me…
But I missed the smiling Fairies. I missed all of the Aid Stations. I missed the setting sun over Donner Peak. I missed the Palisades and Crows nest. I missed Castle Peak and the ridge line views. I missed all of the creeks and waist-high wildflowers in Devils Oven. I missed Summit Lake. I missed the other runners whom I played leap-frog (sorry Froggy) with all day. I did not miss Hole in the Ground nor Van Norden, but I did miss Euer Valley and the dawn light over the top of the Animal.
As I stood under the finish line banner, I missed all of it. And I wondered if Helen, who was giving me probably the biggest bear hug I’ve ever experienced, knew what I was thinking.
Ever so grateful.