One of my earliest memories is of my mom yelling at me “ Carol, don’t run in the house!!” At some point, I took it out to the streets, and eventually to the trails, and have been out there ever since. It’s almost religious although I prefer to refer to my time on the trails as “spiritual”. Lots of thinking gets done – most of it of little consequence but the wheels are spinning, nonetheless.
A little history: Back in the early 80s, living in SF and nursing a huge hangover, I wandered over to Golden Gate Park and ended up at the finish of a womans’ marathon….and thought: ‘I should do that’. So, I started running in the morning before work and ran the ’83 SF marathon before turning 40. I quit drinking and running became my new “addiction”. I ran 3 more SF and Portland marathons just to make sure it wasn’t a fluke. I continued running, mostly as a weekend warrior and spent a lot of time on the Dipsea trails of Mt Tam when we lived in the Bay Area and PCT between Donner Summit and Squaw when we bought a place in Tahoe Donner in the late 80’s – a true dream come true.
Along about 5 -6 years ago I retired and found my tribe – a little late in the grand scheme of things, but MY tribe – DPMR. I went out on some of the speed work sessions with the gang, mostly bringing up the rear. When I took a wrong turn, Lesley would come find me and make sure I didn’t get lost. The DPMR tag line: “no one left behind” – is totally true!
I asked Peter to be my coach and started down the road to longer distance running – mostly 25Ks – Canyons, MUC – and another dream come true, I joined a “run the alps” (RTA) runcation – Tour du Mont Blanc in 2018 – as a 75th birthday present to myself! Still bringing up the rear at this point, I had a blast and met some wonderful people – we definitely all bonded to the point of having annual reunions – Broken Arrow in 2019; Big Sky and The Rut coming this September.
So, let’s get on to current events…..
Annie, one of the gals from RTA said she signed up for the 2020 TRT 55K ….so, I thought, I will too – it’s in my back yard! TRT 2020 didn’t happen so I signed up again for 2021. Annie bailed. It’s now January 1, 2021 – Jenelle sent me an email saying “Congratulations….you’re #8!!!) Holy cow – I better get cracking!! So, I started pumping iron, consuming Vital Proteins Collagen Peptides (thanks, Kelly), set up a calendar, and started tracking my miles, forecasting I should be at least 50 miles/week by June.
I don’t think I really realized just how far 55K was/is!! At some point, I mentioned to Helen that I had this new goal in mind of running the TRT 55K. Without missing a beat, she said, “I’ll help you” and she became my coach of sorts…inviting me on hikes with her and her daughter, Clara – on Peavine, down to Auburn to experience Michigan Bluff area, to Palm Springs to the Boo Hoff loop (I called it “boo hoo” – my feet were killing me) and the cactus to clouds trails where we got to witness Bighorn Sheep up close and personal. On the ride down the San Jacinto tram in Palm Springs, Helen announced in her “outside voice” that I was her “adopted mom who thought I was her younger sister “ and that I was 77 and training for a 55K . At that point the music in the tram had stopped, everyone turned to stare and started clapping. I believe I turned red and tried to disappear.
Helen introduced me to the Flume trail above Tahoe, led me up the “taste of hell” part of TRT – the first 6 miles up Ash Canyon, if you ask me – and prompted me to get out on the course and get better acquainted with it. She asked about what I was eating, how I was hydrating, suggested foot options (my feet were still killing me) and was generally “on it” without being pushy – kindly but direct.
I went up Ash Canyon a second time and had a “crisis of confidence” – it went on forever; it was hot, dusty, the angle of incline continued to incline and I thought “why the hell am I doing this….I’m retired, I should be playing bridge somewhere”. I admit I got a little teary eyed telling Helen I was having my doubts about the whole endeavor. She listened, gave me a hug and asked what I was going to do about it tomorrow. So I went up Ash Cyn a couple more times and while I won’t say it was easy, it did seem a little easier – I now knew the turns of the fire road by heart. I explored other parts of the route as well.
Race day: Helen picked me up at my house in Reno at 4:30am and off we went to the 6am start. The sun was coming up, the smoke from the Tamarack fire created a beautiful, dreamy mauve cloak across the sky, there were hugs with several DPMRs at the start (Jack, Kathy, Dan, Bill , Chaz, Abbey, et al). George, our RD, played what sounded like Jimi Hendrix’ version of the national anthem and off we went – conga-like up the canyon. Helen was snapping photos left and right. I took a few myself.
I had been up on Snow Valley Peak (SVP) last October with Carol Lindsey and hiked the TRT 3rd leg on a gorgeous day and recalled how much I wanted to see SVP aglow with wildflowers. I was not disappointed. As we came up the gentle rise of her shoulder, SVP was wrapped in the most lovely lupine…the mule ears were gone but the lupine was stunning. More photos!
We made it to the top – 10 down, only 25 to go. The Boy Scouts were cute, I swapped out shoe inserts, Helen kept on snapping photos, we had some Otter Pops and off we went down the hill toward Marlette and a blazing array of wild flowers along the shady trail up and out toward Hobart. We spotted the largest mother aspen we had ever seen – more photos. We received lovely spritzes of cool water at Hobart, had some very tasty watermelon, a PBJ and kept on going toward Tunnel Creek and what I thought was maybe the half-way point. At Tunnel Creek, there was quite the full menu posted, got a hug from my favorite Doc – Andy – swapped out inserts again and more hugs from Michele, Abbey and Kaycee then back to Hobart. Geez – when do we get to go downhill??!!.
At some point, Helen mentioned that its quite common for conversation to stop – for maybe 2-3 hours – you get tired, run out of things to say, etc. That made sense to me. The light was changing into a rosy golden glow – I could see Marlette. On we went and hit Hobart around 5pm, I think. I loved seeing the light change throughout the day ….we were heading back into the mauve tones of the early morning. The folks at Hobart gave lots of encouragement, topped off my hydration, more watermelon and I noticed I really wasn’t hungry much. Helen said no problem – just keep the hydration going. A big arrow pointed “this way to the FINISH!” I’m thinking WOW – this is going to happen….25 down and 10 to go!!!! Maybe a couple more hours…maybe I can get in before night fall. What was I thinking!
Out of Hobart, there was the most beautiful, flowy single-track heading DOWN – yes, all downhill from here. Easy peasy…….I thought I was actually running instead of trudging. I was also starting to lean….listing to the left. We hit a looooong fire road that went past Red House and it kept on going, and going, and going. I wanted to run. It wasn’t happening. I was now down to a shuffle and poling for all I was worth.
Night was falling, the sky was ablaze, then it got dark. Head lamps on. I could see the little scorpions out foraging for whatever they forage for…..as well as some other really interesting looking little critters. I had to pee – there was not a tree or bush in sight that seemed like an appropriate screen. Finally, Helen said ‘’just do it’ and stood guard, so to speak. Of course, as soon as I got down to business, some guy came along with blazing headlamp and wanted to know if we needed help. Helen announced that we were watering pines and thankfully the guy kept on going. It was all I could do to stand up.
I skipped the last AS and started down the final switchbacks. Helen told me to keep on going – she’d catch up with me. I was really listing to the left, to the point that I’d occasionally veer off the side of the trail into the soft soil. I looked up at the half-moon – it was blood-red but looked kinda’ bleary. I thought if I look at it I better stop otherwise I’d end up off the side of the trail, ie., cliff. I kept on going. Helen caught up; no talking -frankly, I was in the so-called “pain cave” – my feet hurt like hell, I felt like I kept veering off the trail to the left, all I could do was shuffle to keep on going and I felt nauseated.
At 11:40pm – 17+ hours from the start – I crossed the finish line. My first ultra!! In fact, Helen had taken a memorial pic at mile 27 to say I was officially an ultra person at that point. Peg was at the finish to greet me – relieved I’m sure, that her very own ‘nut case’ had made it back in one piece. Javier took off my shoes, Chaz got me some vegetable soup which was delicious and Clara gave me lots of hugs. There were lots of hugs all around. I also got a little trophy – I came in 3rd in my age group (frankly, I think there were just 3 of us in this AG).
I know for a fact that if I were to cry “uncle” and quit, there was no way off the mountain other than under my own power. Helen and I had joked on a number of training runs, that If I died out there, I couldn’t think of a better place to do it and doing what I love and have done my whole life. A couple of days after TRT finish, Helen and I went for a recovery hike. She commented that while we were out there, she thought about what if I did die out on the trail. She would have had a lot of explaining to do with Peg. We both had a good laugh and another hug.
Here’s the REAL thing: Helen gave me the gift of her time over a 6-month period so that I could catch a dream – finish an ultra like the big kids. That kindness, more than anything, I will never forget. I know I will look for ways to “pay it forward” to others in any way possible. To me, this is what running an ultra is all about.