Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Death Valley Marathon: A Race Report!

Ready? (if not, you should be.  This is only, like, a month after the fact).  Here we go!

Let's start off with location, location, location!

I first came to Death Valley 3 years ago, for a race of course, and just fell. in. love.  I've lived on the sea, I've lived in the mountains, I think I very well might live in the desert one of these days because the desert is simply magnificent and speaks to me in a way that's hard to quantify.  I love the views, the geology, the plants, the harshness, the weather, the expanse, the climate.  Well, the climate in December, anyhow.  I think August might have a thing or two to teach me, but in the winter I'm all over it.  I think I'm meant for the desert.  Death Valley is the pinnacle of all that is desert and I smile smile smile all the time that I am there.  Love.

This race could have been designed with only me in mind.  I love the venue, the weather (on this day, cool and overcast, not the best for photos but the best for me!), the view, and the profile.  Check it out:

We ran from Nevada into California, so I guess I've got two states covered?  Isn't this a pretty satellite shot?  Really, though, it's all about the elevation profile, and this is the sweet spot for me.
Climb climb climb, then descend descend descend, and descend!  To the tune of 3,125 feet gained and 6,359 feet lost, per Gary (I just looked this up just now and am really quite shocked with those numbers.  I knew it was a lot, but not THAT much!  Holy Shit!).  Holy shit!

So anyways we all meet up at Furnace Creek at 6:30 am, check in and all that, I drop a deuce (happiness!) and get intimidated by all the other runners for a while.  I'm not in a tutu-wearing mood for some reason, so I've left that piece of gear back at the truck. I ready myself for 26 miles without headphones because this is a no iPod race and they seem pretty damn stern about it, so I decide not to cheat even though I want to.  Pre-race stuff, then we all load onto buses for the half hour trip to the start line.

Some 300 people pour from the buses, and all the dudes just line up and let 'er whizz.

I'm jealous and consider doing the same (I mean, modesty? Now? Who am I kidding?), but I use the portapotties like a lady and then, 3-2-1 Go! and we're off.

And away I go.  This race is all on a fire road, and this one is one of those insidious sloooow elevation gains, such that it doesn't feel like you're actually climbing, it just takes even more effort than usual to maintain your regular pace.  I fall in line and start the slow churn upwards.

Along about the beginning I hear someone talk about how they're from New Mexico and a variety of other little tidbits and lo! and behold I get to meet Misty from Athena Diaries!  She's someone I've been reading for a looong time, and runs around my speed, and seems like an all-around cool chick, so I was super psyched to fall into conversation with her (try not to be an idiot, Bootchez, don't say stupid things, don't be a potty mouth, be clever and GOOOD, I hate social anxiety!).  This long time later I can't remember what we talked about, but I know that I enjoyed the conversation.

We ran somewhat together until about mile 5 when oh! hey! remember the knee?  It twinges.  Just a little bit, but every time I lift my leg up, oooh, a little bit of a twinge.  Not to worry right now, thinks I, but one element of it bears consideration . . . the knee does NOT hurt at all if I maintain a certain pace.  At this point, that pace is around 12:30 or so.  Any slower, any faster and twingetwingetwinge, so FINE then, I let my knee dictate my pace.  This happens to be just a tiny bit faster than Misty is running, so bye bye to her (for now).  I get to know some of the other back-of-the-packers which comes in handy later on, as I spend the next 2/3 of the run passing, and being passed by, and passing again, then ultimately being passed permanently by, about 20 of the same people.

I remember miles 11-13 being mostly pretty damn tough, with the slope getting darn steep, then steeper, then downhill for a bit, then WOW! Really steep! and then I'm walking.  Little stabs at running, followed by a long stretch of walking.  I don't walk much during races, but this shit was steep!

There is not much distance between the road below me and the road I'm on, and it's 100 feet higher.  Steep.

But then, yay! Mile 13 rolls around and I know it's all downhill from here.  It's all easy, and gravy, and beautiful to boot!  I'm going to looove the second half of THIS race, I tell myself.

And, for a while, I do.  Stride stride stride, run run run, I'm happy!  I pass a young lady, Bethany,  at mile 16 or so who's walking, limping, she doesn't know what happened but she heard something snap and by the way she's walking I think she's done in her Achilles.  She's been in tears, you can tell by her face, and I'm all Cheer up, little camper, you'll be just fine, eventually!  I don't actually say this, of course, just offer some words of encouragement and keep on keeping on, but I'm happy with the way my knee is holding up, and I'm not imune to a little hubris at times.  

A couple miles later and I fall into conversation with another gal, Caroline, who chose this! as her first marathon, ballsy girl.  Turns out the week prior she was diagnosed with a torn rotator cuff (shoulder), making her even more of a badass.  She's struggling a bit at this stage, and we fall into a great bit of conversation and take each other's mind off of our miseries for a little while.  We've got tons in common (same-ish age, both live in ski towns, seemingly same sense of humor and she knows about and shares my love for my Favorite Place on Earth . . . ) and I'm happy to have met her.

By this time, we are well into Titus Canyon, and the scenery is spectacular.  I just love Death Valley and all it has to offer . . .
So Caroline and I run together for a bit, but again my knee will not let me run at a pace of my choosing, and I must leave her, and I do.  Which turns out to be a good thing, because for whatever reason my belly starts acting up a bit and I drop a present on the roadside (keep in mind, canyon road = canyon = very little privacy).  Just as I'm finishing up, one of those 20 new back-of-the-pack friends passes and I'm, Just having a pee here! I'm not pooing, not me! and I gather myself and head back out there and pass this guy, who happened to have passed me once before while I was having a pee (a real pee, that first time).  I'm simply shameless.

So all is well, for the most part, and I pull into the 20-mile aid station.  I know that my pace has dropped considerably over the past 5 miles due to the knee, but I've already resolved to not care a whit about my time and I couldn't care less.  Yuumy tasty food, a little to drink, a nice little chat with the volunteers and I happily head off for the last 6 miles . . . 

And the fking wheels fall right off.  

My knee, which has been a loud whisper till this point, suddenly is a ROOOAR!  Seriously, my first running step nearly drops me to the ground.  In fact, I do stop right quick and I'm all hunched down and what the fuck is all this then? with the knee.  Ouch ouch ouch.  Misty comes cruising on past, inquiring after me and I'm casual and all, I'm fine! Just the knee hurting a bit! and that's a total lie because I'm NOT fine and the knee really hurts and even my leg feels weak and it's hard to pick up my left foot and move it forward.  To get beyond a walking pace I have to literally stagger, two hops on the right, hard step on the left, two hops on the right, repeat a couple times and then I'm running again, after a fashion.  Oh boy! says me, knowing if it had felt this way at mile 10 I would have dropped out then and there, but this is mile 20 and I've come this far . . . so I stagger on down the road.

I've gone from happy knee happy stomach happy runner to UNhappy knee, (though still) happy runner in the space of 100 yards.  The tide has turned, and for the first time in my fledgling running career I am face to face with injury and pain.  If that's not enough, what else has turned?  Those in the know, know, and that would be my stomach.  Another quarter mile beyond the aid station and it's OK NOW, EVERYONE OUT OF THE POOL! and I frantically look around and, people, there is NOWHERE to go, as the canyon walls are now a mere 40 feet? 35 feet? apart from each other, and 20 feet of that is road, leaving a bush? a rock? on either side and omy it doesn't matter because what's inside wants to be outside and I've got no choice and I shuffle off to the "side of the road", hah! and what's inside? A cubic meter of rippling gas, wetrumble!pttttthhhhh!!BANGBANG!!faaaaahhhhrt! (and a tiny little poo), that went on for, no lie, like 20 or 30 seconds, rising and falling, one of the longest farts of my life and certainly one of, if not THE loudest because you know what happens to noises in canyons that are super narrow and hundreds of feet high?  ECHOS happen, amplification and ECHOS Echos echos, that's what happens and here, Pam, in answer to your meme, transpires my Most Embarrassing Running Moment because literally a second, ONE SECOND after the inside stuff gets outside, as I'm chuckling to myself because farts are funny and loud ones even funnier, that same guy from before comes around the corner not 4 feet from where I'm crouched behind a pebble rock, getting ready to wipe myself with a rock.  Having heard the whole thing, no doubt, because the echos were seriously loud, as was I.  He goes trotting up to me and on past, and what can I do?  I know, and he knows, and I know he knows, and . . . I just kinda smile weakly and twiddle my fingers at him as he passes.  

Oh my goodness.

So my stomach's in a riot (be assured, this was not my last roadside donation, o no), my knee is SCREAMING, my pace is truly pathetic, truly, but there's only another couple few miles to go and I'm in Death Valley so I'm happy! and I've never, ever ever looked forward so much to the end of a race.  Miles 20-24 were a bitch, bitch, bitch.  

23 miles in and this, this! is where they have the official photographer.  There's tons of photos of me, and in most of them I look completely miserable, my leg all weird and swung out to the side, in pain.  

Here I said to the photographer, Oh, this is where I'm supposed to look all fucking happy and shit, right??? with not a trace of humor or smile in my voice and she says No, you're supposed to look like you're finishing a marathon! and I ask, deadpan, So you're telling me I look like shit (which, of course, I so obviously do!)?? and she is taken aback a bit, then I smile and laugh and let her see that I'm my usual smily happy runner self despite being a wreck.

A wreck I am indeed, though.  stomach knee knee knee stomach and then I get cooold and feel crappy and my mind is crying a little and then mile 24 and the canyon ooooopens and ends and there's sunshine and wide open spaces and an aid station, where I stop and it's soooo hard to get going again hop hop ouch! hop hop ouch! then running and I start chatting with a fellow runner named Kat and I can tell she'll run with me the last 2 miles so I'm feeling sunnier and like the end is near and attainable.  And then! Caroline catches up with us and we three are really sooooo happy and so looking forward to the end, after some 5 hours and 45 minutes, and then Bethany limpingly catches us and we all band together and carry each other along and it's sooo funny because we're ALL wrecks, me swingling my leg out stiff with every step, Caroline with her shoulder and all those first-time-marathon pains and Bethany barely able to even walk but here she is running and Kat, well, she didn't have any injury but she was wearing those Vibram shoes so she just LOOKED funny and we come staggering down the road with minutes to spare before the 6 hour cut-off and completely enwrapped in the joys and pains of marathons and instant friendship and support and I just love this photo:

Four Horsewomen of the Apocalypse
Kat, Me (acting like the freak, natch), Caroline and Bethany

And we all crossed together.  Gary said 5:59 by the time I remembered to shut him off, but our official time was 5:56, by far my worst PR!

I then took Caroline and Bethany back to the truck and gave them each a vicodin and a xanax.  But don't tell anyone.

Thank the marathon gods for those three women . . . they made those last couple of miles do-able and funny.  

Post race thoughts?
I'm thankful that this knee thing turned out to be ITBS instead of something more serious.  I loved this race and had myself a fine old time despite the hurdles.  I'm itching to do this course again, and really crank out a good time.  The uphill then downhill format is my favorite for sure.  I CAN run without an iPod!  I met some very cool peeps, and that wouldn't have happened if I were plugged in.  I think the $12 brace helped tremendously.  I'm enjoying the month "off" from running I'm presently in.  

I can't wait to get back!


Tricia said...

youre amazing!

totally feel ya on the ITBS :( blah

loved this recap, congrats

Pam said...

When you finally get around to writing a recap, you really do it up right!

I was literally LOLing at your echoing fart story. Definitely one for the "most embarassing running stories" books.

Those photos are awesome. I love the last one of you and the three other ladies.

But seriously, no ipod? That would have been enough to keep me from registering.

Terri said...

You are one strong woman!!! Sending healing thoughts your way!

giraffy said...

Holy crap I love this recap!! I totally want to do this course!

funderson said...

Echo farts...awesome. Yet another reason to idolize you. :)

Stuart said...

Kindred souls on Paragraph 2~

Love the 4 women photo worthy of a frame!

Windnsnow said...

R-report was well worth the wait.
The last picture, with a little better lighting, could easily double from something from a zombie thriller.

Oh, and as far as whizzing, two words: P mate.
Hope you are recovering nicely!