So, Rog and I got talking about races. Imagine. "Pine Creek Challenge" he said. "You’ll PR" he said. "Grand Canyon of the East" he said. "Good tune-up for Oil Creek" he said. "Watch out for snakes" he said. "Lots of Amish" he said. "It gets darker than dark" he said. "Lots of wildlife" he said. "You’ll love it" he said. Rog----good thing you’re wife is a nurse.
I was a bit rushed to get out of work and drive to the race site. First week of school is always hectic. I spiced things up with a bout of food poisoning. Yuck. I tried unscessfully to defer to the 100k. I was turned down flat. Ok. Time to do what I do. I got up at 4 and headed to the Portal Potty. Saw a bear in the distance. This is off to a great start. Did I mention this was my 13th 100 miler? Lucky 13!
The course starts with a 5 mile out and back section that I would complete twice. The first 10 miles were fine. It was nice to see the entire field and say hello to those I knew.
Then the rain started. It was the kind of rain my daughter calls “drip drop PLOP”. As soon as my brain had time to register the first sprinkle, the sky opened up. It would stay raining for the majority of the race, alternating between drizzle and pelting. It. Just. Didn’t. Stop. I felt pummeled. Oh, and I forgot my hat in the car. (and my gaiters---shut up Gary). There was no way I was going to stay dry. Thanks Mother Nature, love you too.
The majority of the race takes place in this breathtaking canyon. Mountains surrounded me, and when the fog would lift, I could see them. A bit concerning was the amount of bear scat on the trail. Hold on to that---it will be important later.
At night, we would get fairly long stretches without much noticeable rain. That’s when the critters came out. Mother Nature, I sincerely apologize for whatever wrongdoing I have done to you. Please consider a bit less fury on race days.
The canyon truly does get darker than dark. Honestly, I have never seen such darkness. I am not afraid of the dark. I am not afraid of animals that go bump in the night (except bears—not my cup of tea). Last night, I was afraid.
It was such a small field; I spent most of the race by myself. The canyon walls were so high; there was no connection to the outside world. I couldn’t use my phone. My iPod died at the Beast, and I haven’t yet replaced it. I was alone with my thoughts. Literally, miles separated one runner from another.
First I saw deer. Beautiful. Then raccoons. Playful. Then a possum. I think it was a possum. It had red eyes. Then a porcupine the size of a laundry basket. Oh, and birch trees every ten feet (my new least favorite allergy). Also, I could hear something being attacked. Then..the bear.
It was about mile 80. I was running where the trail buts against the wall of the canyon. Again, darker than dark. One moment there was silence, the next a huge rustle in the brush. It came about 20 feet behind me, made some sort of grumbling noise, while pacing back in forth, staring at me the whole time. My one and only thought was “I hope this doesn’t hurt too much”. Then it unceremoniously padded off toward the river. I know you are supposed to act tough with black bear, but that just wasn’t within my capabilities. I was terrified.
Once again alone (-ish) in the canyon, with blackness all around, I was scared to move. I contemplated hiding out somewhere until the sun came up, but that’s not me. I was getting out of that canyon. I found my brave and took that first step. It was the hardest step I’ve taken so far, in any race.
Eventually, I met up with another group of runners. Stories of wildlife were shared. We didn’t necessarily run together, but it was nice to know others were around. I was okay then.
With five miles to go, nausea hit me hard. I was back in that pelting kind of rain. I was waterlogged and I just wanted to get this dang thing done. Those last five miles cost me a PR. The sky cleared for, I swear, no more than a minute, and I saw an eagle. I muscled through. No PR, but I knew I completed my most challenging race so far. The weather. The wildlife. My body. Each was a major obstacle, and each, at one point, caused me to seriously consider stopping. I’m proud of this finish.
I collected my finisher mug—which is sitting beside me right now, filled with warm cider. I plan on building it it’s own shelf. This finish was special. I can’t say I loved it, but I do feel an awesome sense of satisfaction. This one is going to stick with me.
By the way Rog: No snakes. No Amish.