Sunday, August 31, 2014

This Ain't No Tall Tale: A Legendary Vacation

I try to go through life without doing anything half-assed. This seems to be a compounding trend. Because the more I do, the more I want to do. And with each step, a little more seems possible.

So when life gives me an opportunity (-ies), it's only natural to make the most of it.

But before you wish to shove me off my soapbox, you must know that I am incredibly human. I slept amongst Goldfish crackers in the Denver airport last night and my last shower was in an RV campsite. Proof that I'm not a robot:

Settle in readers, this is one loooong story. I'm not a fan of separating part I, part II, etc. posts--mainly because I feel my comments are full of ennui by the time I get to the final post. And likely you'll feel that way by the end of this... But know that much like at Hood to Coast, there are only 3 legs to tackle: Hood to Coast, Yellowstone (NRR), and Jackson Hole Marathon.

Hood to Coast

Last fall, without having met Bangle or even attended a single Loopfest, I put my name into the pool of applicants to Bangle's HTC team. To say I was thrilled to be a part of this would be an understatement. The other runners seemed to have such résumés. Sure, I'd been running for more than half my lifetime, but these people had BQs and ultra belt buckles! 

By the time August 21st rolled around, I was beside myself with excitement. Confidently eager to get in a van with a bunch of internet strangers for 30ish hours.
Adam and I marveled at the weather upon arrival at PDX. Though it was 90% gimmick, the fireplace roaring in the hotel lobby let us know we were far, far away from Hotlanta.
At the Lucky Labrador, copious amounts of beer and shenanigans flowed.

I drank way too much beer, laughed until I had a side stitch, and forget entirely about the whole running aspect that was impending.

Everyone was up early though. It was race day! We loaded the vans with provisions and runners and then it was finally happening. I was headed up to Mount Hood! I tried desperately to soak it all in. To savor the moments of palpable excitement and inevitable politeness in the beginning.

I tried to remember to thank Bangle for not only the experience itself, but for his incredible organization as well. And she likely didn't get thanked enough, but Jenster deserves an award for her driving skillz.  She drove 75% of the time and didn't punch any of us in the face in Seaside.

Atop Mount Hood: Bangle sorted out the number snafu, we went shopping for HTC gear, scoped out the ski lodge, decorated the van, ate snacks, visited the Honey Pots, and got ready to rumble.

At 1:45p.m., Maranda flew off the starting line and down the mountain. She rallied hard after all her tummy troubles and still managed to not only run fast, but kept an incredibly positive attitude about the darned thing. In fact, it kind of frightens me how fast she is without much training of late...

Maranda handed off to Jen (my backseat buddy) who continued the flight down the mountain. Since Jen runs lots of trails and ultras, I really had no clue she was also a speed demon on pavement. You know when you see a runner who looks like they just belong there? That's Jen. Incredibly strong Jen.

Jen handed off to Angie--another gazelle set free on the road. I know she's dealt with some body setbacks this year, but you wouldn't have believed it seeing her run. Those long legs tore up the miles! Geez Bangle, you do know what you're doing!

Angie handed off to Jenster for a long, sunny leg along the highway. Oh, did you know she just ran a little 100K less than a week ago? I mean, who are these ridiculously amazing runners?!? And she's just rockin' her run like all the cool kids recover with a relay race.

Jenster hands off to Bangle and we wooooooooo at every chance we can. Bangle has the gnarliest sections and he somehow still runs like a beast. I swear this entire leg was uphill in the sun.

Then Bangle finally gets to hand me the sweaty wristband and off I go! I've been tapering for a marathon for 2 weeks and I just let it rip right out of the gate. It feels so good to get my legs moving fast again. I look around and mentally pinch myself that I'm running in Hood to frickin' Coast!! About a mile into my 6.83, I feel incredibly and horribly dehydrated. That copious amount of beer is suddenly my worst enemy. But I push on in the relentless sun and aim for my kills. The runners are spaced out, but I go after each person I get in my line of sight methodically. Getting within 20 feet, easing up, and then pushing past. I promised myself I wouldn't get too competitive--hello impending marathon!--but I couldn't resist the temptation. The van met me around mile 4 with delicious water and I raced on into the stretch.
I couldn't see anyone as I came into school area where the first major exchange took place. But then the deafening roar of runners got louder with each step and I yelled out my number to the volunteer with the walkie talkie. I handed off the wristband to Stacy and she flew off!

After a few minutes of chatting with van 2, we diverted paths and made our way to a food cart pod for dinner.
Then we went to the next major van exchange in downtown Portland. I laid down in the backseat for a bit, but it was too early to sleep. The downtime was refreshing though and I was ready for the next part of the journey.

Maranda and Jen ran through some of the dicier parts of Portland and both experienced post-food cart pod remorse. But fortunately Angie and Jenster had no issues as they ran through the night. Bangle and I stood at the exchange where he was meeting Jenster and saw a few of the elite runners pounding out sub-6 miles.

I stood out at the next exchange, nervously anticipating my dark leg. I have run in the dark around street lights, but never in the dark dark. Like headlamp dark. Like 3a.m. in the middle of nowhere dark. But when Bangle came flying up to me, I put one foot in front of the other.

And then I was all alone.

It was eerily quiet in my first 2 miles. I saw maybe 2 other runners--one that passed me (which I'd pass back later on a hill) and one that I passed. It started along the highway and then veered off into a residential area. Volunteers with reflective vests and flags waved us around corners. I could hear only the sound of my feet and the rasp of my breath. For a few short moments, it felt incredibly primal.

I got passed in the last mile by another female. I would have been irked, but her stride and speed indicated that this wasn't her first rodeo. I yelled out good job as her blinking light grew dimmer.

It was too dark to see my Garmin, but I heard it beep at mile 5. I could see the light aura of the next exchange as I crested the hill. It was 3:40a.m. and I gladly passed off the wristband to Stacy.

We wavered a bit about showering before headed to the sleeping area, but ultimately backtracked a leg to clean up and eat breakfast. At 4ish in the morning, amongst other women runners in a communal high school shower, I squatted awkwardly under a too-low shower head.

Assuming I was most awake since I had just completed my leg, I took the reins to drive to the next van exchange. Bangle navigated while I careened around the curves of countryside. Somewhere in between exchange 23 and exchange 24, we stopped. Dead on stopped. 10 minutes, 15 minutes, 30 minutes, and hour. We crawled a bit, but we'd gone less than a mile in an hour. I put the car in park at times. I played air guitar on my leg and any regard for etiquette vanished as we saw the sunrise from a minivan in the middle of Western Oregon.

By the time we made it to the exchange and braved the Honey Pot line, Laura's exuberant cries left no time for Maranda to feel settled. She threw me her shirt and ran. For the last of our legs, we leapfrogged van and runner. Angie ran with Jen, Bangle ran with Jenster, and I ran with Bangle.

I jumped out of the van to run with Bangle for his last 1.5 miles. Downhill. Brad likes running downhills. Especially when he's mad that he had to run uphills. Nothing like going from van slouching to running 7 minute miles downhill! But I secretly enjoyed it because it was the one time I actually got to run with a Loopster during the race. However, I had to keep going as he peeled off at the exchange. 

My last leg was my favorite. It was mostly downhill along a forested road with lots of curves. It was right at noon on Saturday, I had been awake for 31ish hours, I had run just over 13 miles already, but I was running Hood to frickin' Coast! I was working hard, but remembering to enjoy it.
Cell coverage was abysmal and I got worried for a brief moment that Stacy's smiling face might not be waiting for me at the exchange. But as I came into the congested area, I picked her right out and gleefully handed off one final time. She told me that her van had already left, indicating that my only support was a mile up the road. I started walking back up the hill--mostly because I didn't just want to stand around waiting. Soon enough I hopped back into our van!

One of the best impromptu moments happened next as we laid out in a field with cold fruit, sandwiches, and soaked up a bit of sun before heading to the cloudy beach. We were finished!

The VIP suite was such a diamond in the rough of the finish line.

Amazing what a cold beer, warm campfire, and buffet of food will do to turn spirits around. We were so road-weary and punch-drunk that giggles were in full force. I hated to leave while it was daylight, but the awesome drivers still had work to do to get everyone back to Portland safely. 

It was the trip of a lifetime for sure. Even with the van clogs and tired legs, I loved being a part of this adventure. These are the kind of journeys that words seem to diminish the true experience. I love the mental snapshots that will now make me smile as they regurgitate in my memory bank. My only regret is that we didn't really get much time with van 2. Womp, womp...

Yellowstone (NRR)
The next adventure is in between the running adventures. Adam and I spent Sunday in Portland beginning with brunch and ending with dinner with Mild Sauce. We took a day trip to wine country and stopped at a favorite vineyard, Domaine Serene, for an estate wine tasting.
We packed everything up Monday morning and headed out to catch our flight to Jackson Hole. Flying into Jackson Hole is special unto itself. The plane lowers into the valley with the Tetons jutting majestically out of the earth. Though I've driven through once before, I clamor for a better view as we descend.
Soon, we are getting a room with a real key (whaaa....?) in a scrappy motel with a tube TV.
We escape to town to buy Adam a cowboy hat.
And meet up with Misti and Nate at the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar to saddle up to a few drinks.
After a quick sleep and a 4 mile run, we met them again for breakfast burritos and bear spray handoffs.
Then it was off to Yellowstone we went! I will spare you the minute-to-minute details in lieu of a few choice photographs and the highlights.

Tuesday-Drive to the south entrance of Yellowstone via Grand Tetons. Oooh and aahh at Old Faithful and hike through practically every geyser basin on the southwest side of the park. Make it to West Yellowstone, Montana by sunset and eat dinner at a pizzeria. I grab an ice cream bar at a gas station on the walk back to the One Horse Motel. According to my phone pedometer app, I took over 23,000 steps.

Wednesday-We drive to the Idaho state line so Adam can cross it off his list and then head east back to the park. We have a horseback ride scheduled at 3:45p.m. so we take in the quick sights as we travel from Madison to Norris to the Canyon area. I have developed an odd fear of riding in the car while on mountain roads--especially without guard rails. I alternated oohing at the beautiful scenery and hiding behind hoodie. The horseback ride is absolutely beautiful (the sky is so blue it looks fake) and our guide chases away bison, a badger, and pronghorn antelope so as to not spook our own herd. After a steak dinner at the cookout, we ride back to the corrals. We pull up to the Roosevelt Hotel at dusk right as a herd of elk are crossing the street.

Thursday-After a hearty breakfast, we set out on a hike to the top of Mammoth Hot Springs. We make the drive south towards Norris for another geyser basin walk. A bison traffic jam impedes progress towards the Canyon area, but we need a break before hiking the into the canyon. The late afternoon produces a gorgeous light show as we hike down to the lower falls. The air temperature is dropping as the wind starts to pick up. After dinner, we retreat to our 1950's cabin just in time for a thunderstorm to come rattling through.

Friday-The rain has cleared out and we luck out on another beautiful day. Our agenda is to get to Jackson by the middle of the afternoon. We take a little break at the vast Yellowstone Lake for a root beer and a geyser walk and head the long way back to bypass the Teton Resort area to check out the marathon finish line. We eat the most absurdly good pizza and then pick up my race packet at the Chamber of Commerce. After checking into the hotel, we do a little race-day grocery shopping (bagel, banana, etc), and then kill time before dinner. I set the alarm for 5:20a.m. to leave by 6a.m. and try to get some sleep.

Jackson Hole Marathon
If you've made it this far, congratulations! Only 1 leg left!
Race day morning has my stomach in knots. In the back of my mind, the twinges and tingles of pain I've had over the summer, culminating with a lack of speedwork and exhilarating runs has my confidence nearing the gutter. Waves of anticipation wash over me as I force the tasteless bagel into my throat. I try to battle the negatives, but my heart just isn't in the right place. And I know that's no way to begin the trek of 26.2 miles. 

But soon, I'm staring at my gear and realizing that all that training wasn't for nothing.
The good thing about your 10th marathon is that you know your body is capable. The bad thing is that there is a whole lot less riding on the timeline. I started this training journey with high hopes and while they weren't dashed before I started, I knew it was going to take a small miracle to hit my A goal.

Adam drove me to the start line and I met with a bunch of Marathon Maniacs for a picture.
I was glad to have instant support for the course because there were very few spectators. Being a little insane has its advantages!

I stood a couple of rows from the front until it was go time. As we crossed under the start line, I waved good-bye to Adam and tried to figure out my race strategy. I knew the first third was mostly downhill, but I didn't want to go out too fast in case I was suffering at the end. 

I'm not sure it would have mattered much. My legs felt pretty dead from the beginning, but I was happy to see I was still at goal pace through the first 5. Then I started to pace off a guy for a bit because I was kind of in a trance and realized that I was getting too comfortable in the 8:30s. But when I sped up, I felt like it was more of a tempo effort. I struggled to find a good pace.

My stomach was not feeling great and I knew that sooner or later, I'd need to stop. I told myself to suck it up, enjoy the frickin' beautiful scenery, and not throw 12 weeks of training down the toilet! But then my pace started slipping again and though the miles were ticking off, they weren't fast enough. 

So then I just kind of held on until about mile 13 where I made a pit stop. I instantly felt better for a mile or two and thought that I could at least jockey myself back to a decent time. But soon enough, I was in the middle of a tough road climb with traffic coming one way, the sun coming another, and all the twinges and tingles came out in full force. My left calf throbbed, my right quad burned, and I definitely was like, who is this snarly runner girl and where did she put Carissa? 

Adam drove by around this time and I felt so disappointed in myself. Not because he loves me any less because I was slipping slowly away from my goal, but because I'm the idiot who pays money for this stuff and he dutifully, without question, supports me in all my whack-a-doo adventures. 
So I stop my pity party and aim to pick off the other zombies. I've never seen a race where people go into zombie-mode quite so early. Usually it's nearing the 18+ range, but carnage started early on. I am not running fast, but I am shuffling forward and not walking. 

Nearing the single digit countdown, I try to do some runner math. Then I realize it's all sort of off because I'm calculating with 8 minute miles which seem to be an impossibility at this point. I give up and look at the horses and mountains instead.

A total of about 5 people end up passing me in the last 10K, but I pass just as many myself. Many completely drenched in sweat and most are walking. For every 10 feet of shade, there is 200 feet of sun. I am still running, but only because I'm afraid if I stop, I'll end up having to walk the remainder of the course. So my new goal is just to keep running, no matter how shuffle-y it gets.

When I get to mile 23, I start to play more games. You can walk at mile 23.5. Nah, keep going until mile 24. What's 2 more miles? Keep going until 24.5. Well, heck, now I'm 25... who walks the last mile? Then I see a lady who passed me waaaaaay back at like, mile 6. I'm gaining on her, er, inching towards her. I see another female closely ahead of her, but she's running strong. No way I can get these cinder blocks going that fast.... But the closer lady... I put a target on her back. Which is just dumb because I'm nowhere near any goal. This is just me being competitive.

I inch closer to her and shuffle right behind her a minute. Don't want the awkwardness of her passing me back with a half mile to go. But with the finish line in sight, I push my tired legs as fast as I can muster. Pretty sure it looked like one tortoise passing another tortoise, but in my mind, I was like a cheetah!

As I swung around the corner and headed to the finish line, I have never been so relieved to be done with a race. 3:53:XX, 7th (of 81) female, 4th (of 19) in my age group (damn you 30-34 AG!), and 29th (of 179) overall. #10, done.

But in case you thought I'd had my fill, I rested, relaxed, absorbed, learned, processed, and ultimately decided that it was just my time to have a yucky one. Not all days are clear blue skies. We need the rain too.

After all, Boston selection is in 2 weeks!!!!!!!!!