- In which it is discovered that I am not Van Phan
- What cans of spinach are to Popeye, jars of kale smoothie are to Yitka
- White River stole my mojo
Let's begin with the letter I spent 9 hours on Saturday composing in my head:
Dear White River, you fabulous, cunning beast,
You remind me of falling in love at 14. You wooed me, you made me giddy, you gave me the world. Turns out that I gave you everything, too - so when I tried my best to recreate the euphoria you let me taste, I found I had nothing left to give. You took it all, White River, you handsome, sly devil, you.
On Saturday, I attempted to run a 60K in the stunning Methow Valley of northern central Washington. I think that when I signed up for it months ago, my thought process was this: Well, I'll be such a badass by the time I've run White River, I'll be able to handle running 38 miles with 10,000+ feet of elevation gain two weeks later, no big whoop.
Granted, I have crazy friends who encourage this sort of thinking. I consort with folks like George and Van and Jason and Jenn and Stacey who do things like run a couple hundred miles in one go, or run across the desert in Jordan, or run from Seattle to Vancouver in a few days for the hell of it. Unfortunately, often as I associate with the nutcases, I am not quite (yet?) of the same blood. After Van finished running her own 200 mile race, she marched gracefully right into the role of race director/cheerleader/pizza-wrangler, and likely ran a cooldown marathon the next day. I'm pretty sure I'd be comatose at that point, not jogging.
All this to say that two weeks had somehow come to seem like a reasonable amount of time to recover between ultras. This turned out, for me, to be less than accurate.
Like any runner, I have a plethora of excuses ready to explain why I felt so miserable for approximately half of the Angel's Staircase 60K:
- 90+ degrees Fahrenheit = 25 degrees above Yitka's melting point; I'm Dutch, not Kenyan
- Not enough sleep for two weeks leading up to it
- No green smoothie or boiled egg morning of (I am nothing without kale!)
- Crappy diet overall the week leading up to it
- Running at 6,000-8,000 feet elevation all day, where the air is certainly thinner than at sea level
- Intense headache verging on migraine that lasted about four hours
But I was okay with it! In fact, I'm still okay with it. I loved the course. I loved all the fellows and ladies who absolutely rocked it; seven of the top 15 finishers were female - woohoo! I loved feeling no hurry whatsoever, taking my time along the way to think, take photos, chase butterflies in fields of wildflowers. (You think I'm kidding...)
Mentally, though, I had nothing to give on Saturday. There was no inspirational drawing on deep stores of psychological prowess. If there'd been a van at mile 27 offering to take me to the finish, I would have hopped in it without a second thought. Fortunately, (given the old slogan that pain is temporary, pride is forever), I was instead very much alone at mile 27, very deep in the backcountry at that point, where the only way out was on my own two feet. The mountain, not my mind, deserves credit for the lack of DNF on Saturday.
And furthermore, I wasn't the only one. People puked. Runners had to be fetched off the mountain. My friend Tom died somewhere along the course, and came across the finish line seven hours later as a purple-skinned, muscle-twitching zombie.
Of course, I'm being dramatic - though, only really about the Tom dying part. To be fair, the course was amazing. 100% pure sunshine, spectacular views, fun familiar faces, plenty of Snickers bars. I felt pretty good for the first half. I think I was in the women's lead for a mile or two - though, for what it's worth, all us top seven women finishers were within about 20 minutes of each other the entire race...pretty awesome to be surrounded by so many strong, inspiring women.
James and Candice, as always, did a fantastic job putting this amazing race together for the handful of nut jobs who showed up for it. Bonus points for the rattlesnake and alpaca sightings on the mountain, and for the awesome volunteers, and for whomever furnished the Trader Joe's Just Mango Slices at one of the aid stations. As broken as Zombie Tom and I were at the end of this saga, I'd be lying if I said we weren't already planning our return for next year.
Please note that my legs are not as pale as they appear, nor does the lack of filth on them indicate that I stayed clean during the death march. Ladies just know where to find the wet wipes at the finish line.
Lastly, for a dizzying video that's apt to make you feel as nauseated as I did for 4-5 hours on Saturday (and give you a little taste for the stunning nature of the course), here ya go: