Scatter my ashes here...

Scatter my ashes here...
scatter my ashes in the desert...

Monday, August 18, 2014

Close Encounters of Three Kinds...

1. Touroidus celluloidus

When I was in forestry school at NAU (where I got my bachelor's degree way back in the ancient times, when dinosaurs still ruled the earth) we used to have a joke among our classmates, that when we went out to forest recreation sites, among the many wildlife species we would encounter were Touroidus celluloidus. The fat-assed tourist.

They drove as much as they could, parked as close to the destination as possible, the picnic was the highlight of their trip, and they always asked stupid questions.

It's true, we really did say that. Not PC at all. But that was also back in the days before the obesity epidemic really took hold, the early eighties. Reagan was president, the "gourmet" food craze was just starting out, and fat was only beginning to be thought of as the demon. What followed was the removal of fat from the junk food diet and replacement by carbohydrates, which led us to the great waistline expansion and Type II diabetes explosion of today.

When I think about my life back then I think I was some kind of alien among my classmates who were mostly male, very conservative, a few were rednecks, they listened to annoying, twangy country music and chewed and spat tobacco, always had a blob in one side of their jaw, spit into soda cans, drank cheap beer, and drove big pickup trucks with long antennas on top and wore pointy boots, jeans, and flannel shirts. And hats, always cowboy hats or baseball caps.

I was one of a small handful of women in my class. An alien race for sure.

Speaking of aliens, I have always been curious about Devil's Tower. I've been to the Black Hills many times for races and runs, but never took the opportunity to go see it, even though it's only about an hour out of the way. This time I made a point of going there on my way to Spearfish, where I was running the Leading Ladies marathon.

I drove north on a little highway from Douglas to Gillette, Wyoming, though oilfield country. Nothing but oil rigs, oil wells, oil tankers, and antelope. Then took a road off of I-90 to the monument. I could see the Black Hills from Gillette and the scenery got better as I drove north.

I drove over the Belle Fourche river, and from a high point on the highway, I could see some rock formations in the distance, and I knew the one by itself had to be Devil's Tower.

Approaching it on the road, it became more impressive the closer I got. People were beginning to turn off the road to take photographs, and I did too. I wished I could be there at sunrise or sunset so the light would be better, but it was noon.

I drove down a hill, around a curve, and there it was...Disneyland! Ugh.

Prime Touroidus celluloidus habitat. There was a long line of cars leading up to the entrance station, and I momentarily considered turning around and bagging it. But then I knew I'd be disappointed, so I stayed, sitting in line with the line of cars blowing exhaust, surrounded by tourists at the KOA and little stores advertising ice cream, trinkets, and other touristy garbage. There was even a car show going on.

There were lots of overweight people milling around eating ice cream, giant RVs parked in tiny parking lots, and people sitting there, in folding chairs, alongside the road, breathing exhaust, watching I'm not sure what...the line of traffic waiting to go through the entrance station to pay $10 to see the tower?
By the time I got a quarter mile from the trailhead, it got quiet and the crowds disappeared, with only occasional walkers, many of whom spoke German or Japanese. But there was one guy who easily topped 300 pounds, who was walking along, pouring sweat, and talking to his companion about how he feels like his body is pushing it's limits, that he could tell he was getting if he were on some long remote trek in the wilderness...
I ignored the drama, but I really thought I would have a chance to practice CPR before I made it around the trail once. So many VERY unfit looking people. Very bad. It looks like this might be the most exercise most of them had in a long time. Huffing and puffing to get up little baby hills, maybe 20 feet high.
Looking up at the giant columns of "phonolite porphyry, a...greenish-gray igneous rock with conspicuous crystals of white feldspar" according to the Tower Columns, a newsprint souvenir freely distributed at the little booth at the park entrance.

The tower was different all the way around, many interesting views from each angle. Again, I wish the light had been better, but I got the best pictures I could.

2. Leading Ladies Marathon

After the tower, it was about an hour drive to Spearfish. First I stopped off at the Holiday Inn to pick up my race packet. It's an all women's marathon, so there were a lot of colorful items in the expo. Close encounters with a lot of pink stuff. Nothing I was interested in.

I walked around a little, got my number, t-shirt, and chip, and the information I needed, and then I went across the street to my hotel and was able to check in. Once I got up to my room, I cranked the air conditioning as cold as it would go, and started getting my stuff organized for a 3 am wakeup. The buses were leaving the Holiday Inn across the street at 4 am, for the 6 am race start.

I went out to get some food. I didn't see anything that interested me except a Mexican restaurant that someone told me was good. So I decided to go there and get take out, and go back to the room and eat. I could not believe the size of the portion they gave me. There were enough refried beans for an army. I happen to like refried beans if they are the really really bad kind, the Mexican kind, probably made with lard and they taste awesome. Well that was the case. And I ate them. It was 4 pm. I figured I was eating early enough that I'd be able to fall asleep.

I organized my clothes and stuff for the morning and thought about my plan, sitting down on my mat on the floor to stretch.

I was thinking if I could keep a 9 minute pace that would be good, so my goal in my head was to finish in under 4 hours. I had fantasies of running 3:30 a few weeks back, but given the fatigue in my legs I dismissed that altogether, even with the downhill. My goal would be to run sub 9s average.

I only ran 26 miles before the marathon that week. But one day I did do almost 16 miles and felt pretty dead at the end of it, so I knew my legs weren't going to perform any miracles. Plus with my tight hips and gluteals that I've been obsessively stretching and strengthening only for about a week, I knew I was limited.

I slept okay, turned off the lights at 8:30 and woke up once to pee but went back to sleep. No hot flashing, thanks to the AC.

I woke up at 2:55, and did my usual prerace routine. Coffee, thyroid pills, stretch, shower, dressed, eat something. I packed a sandwich to eat on the bus along with some water and a vitamin water zero. I took my running pack and a water bottle half filled with ice.

I left the room at 10 to 4, to walk across the street to catch the bus.

The bus went to the park where the finish line was, to pick up more runners, then up to Deadwood and past the town of Lead up to the country club for the start. We passed places I remembered from my trip with Ed, like the burger place on the highway that was our motivation. And I remembered getting lost trying to find the trail head and almost driving to Wyoming in the process, and finally coming back to the same road past the country club.

The woman I sat next to on the bus was doing the 50 states so she picked my brain for some ideas for marathons in different states. I was able to help her with about half a dozen.

We could see lightning in the distance, but there was no rain. When the sun rose it was clear. I hit the portapotties first- got at front of bus with that in mind. After 3 trips I thought I was done. I stretched in the dark, waiting for the start.

When we lined up at start, I was surprised to see pacers. A man was pacing the 3:45 group-the fastest paced runner group. Then there were women pacers: 4 hours, 4:10, 4:20, 4:30 and who knows what else was back there. The women pacing the pace groups looked like they might struggle with the times they were supposed to be pacing, but I do my own thing so I really didn't care. There were two women who looked like twins at the front. They looked to be older than me but had dark hair, they looked fast and skinny and had some sort of Boulder shirts on. I figured they would be up front so I got several rows behind them.

I stood in line next to the 3:45 pace dude, not intending to stay with him. The horn sounded, and we were off, on a gravel road, going straight up a fairly steep hill. After a couple of miles we were on pavement.

3. The Shrubbery

Shortly after mile 2 I realized I needed to use the facilities, which were nonexistent. They promised portapotties at most aid stations, but I knew I wasn't going to make it to the aid station, wherever it was. I spotted a place just up and off the road in some thick trees. It was a good three or four minutes before I got back on the road. Even though I was smart to bring some TP and baby wipes, I didn't bring enough. I was in trouble.

Then I was worried that my intimately close encounters with the shrubbery might have been poison ivy since I remembered it from my trip with Ed.

My splits looked like this (for those who are interested in such things): Mile 1 10:23, mile 2 19:57, Mile 3 33:53. Then it faded into an amorphous mess of uneven splits broken up by sprints into the woods. I was only focused on finding the next spot to take cover. I resupplied myself with toilet paper at one of the aid station portapotties.

It was a screaming downhill for a while, I hit 10 miles in 1:35:56, then there was a mile uphill gravel road section to some waterfalls. I actually considered quitting at mile 10!! I felt so crappy I just didn't want to do it anymore. But then I decided to continue with a tourist stroll. Maybe I would feel better later, I could only hope. I was behind the 4:10 pacer, I could see that group of three or four runners far ahead of me.

Walking uphill to the waterfall a young runner came up on me and started chatting. she was running and I was walking, she asked me if this was my first time. I smiled and said, I wish! I asked her if it was her first and she said it was. She asked me how many I've done and I said, I don't keep track, but it's a lot. I started to talk with her and started jogging along with her. It got me going.

She said her goal was to finish without walking. I gave her my nicest-toned gentle lecture about walking, which is, never feel bad about walking, there is nothing wrong with it, it gives your muscles a break and you end up going faster in the long haul. I walked for about 3 minutes before she caught me, and that was it for my walking.

Just before 13 miles there was an aid station. I stopped for some bananas and more water, then I took off. My legs were sluggish, but they were moving. By then I was only thinking about making it back to the hotel room in time to check out and get a shower before I drove home. That was my new goal, 5 hours.

I wasn't even mad at myself for not bringing my phone to take pictures. It was beautiful, but I was not in an enthusiastic mood.

I hit the halfway mark, the half marathon start, in 2:08:25. I had a couple more portapotty and shrubbery breaks before 17 miles. I ate a gel at 14, and another one at 18, plus a few banana pieces at the aid stations.

I saw a dead snake on the side of the road that made me jump. Maybe it was the adrenaline from that, but something happened after 17 miles, suddenly my legs kicked in, my gut felt better, and I started moving. My splits started to be consistently under 9 minutes and kept getting faster.

I didn't need any more pee or poop breaks, I must have gotten rid of whatever it was, the alien that took over my insides was finally expelled. I had exorcised the demons, or the other-worldly thing that followed me from Devil's Tower.

We had cool shaded canyons for the first 20 miles, a few sunny areas after halfway but it was quite pleasant and didn't really get warm until the last hour.

Around 18 miles I passed the 4:10 pacer, then around 21 miles I passed the 4:00 pacer, who were each running alone. Yup.

As I was descending the canyon I was passing people left and right, and not just the half marathoners who were walking. I must have passed about 25 marathoners on my way into town in the last 9 miles.

Whenever you're in a race and feeling good in the second half, spectators always see you and cheer for you. "You're looking great!" because compared to everyone else who passes them in a semi-death march state, you look good. That was happening to me, and of course that helps.

When I made the turn that takes you to the bike path that delivers you the last 3/4 mile to the finish line, I was flying, relatively. Eight minute pace is flying at the end of a marathon. I felt good and cruised into the finish, but really glad to be done. 4:10:52 on my watch. Not bad. Not good, but not disastrous. I know that without the poop breaks it would have been easily under four hours, I had to remember that.
At the finish they handed us COLD bottles of water, some scented towels (lavender?), and red roses, along with our medals, which said, "Queen of the Road". It was actually refreshing. I went looking for the shuttle that would take me back to the hotel and it was leaving in 10 minutes, so I looked for the results and had just enough time to see my first-timer buddy from the rough section finish her first marathon. I had passed her around 20 miles. I went over to congratulate her. She was still emotional and elated from her experience. It HAS been a LONG time for me.
I got on the shuttle and headed back to the hotel. I forgot about my drop bag, but all it had in it was half a sandwich that I never ate, some gels, and an old t-shirt I don't care about.

I showered, checked out of the room, and hit the road to drive home. It took 6 hours, and as I drove, my left thigh was screaming for about two hours. It seriously hurt. I was afraid to step on the clutch, I cringed every time I had to shift. I briefly wondered if I had fractured my femur, it was so bad. I was planning to take some ibuprofen when I stopped for gas, but by then it had quieted down and I didn't take any. Now it doesn't feel any different from the right leg. Not sure what that was about, but it's gone.

And now I'm home. Back to the routine. I'm slightly sore but not too bad. I walked and stretched today and didn't run. I'll see how things unfold this week, I might wait until mid-week before I start to hit it hard again. Only two more weeks and I'm tapering.

So it wasn't my best day, but I forgot about marathons. They are a different creature. Sort of alien to me now.

But the best news is, it wasn't poison ivy!!!!

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