Thursday, 7 March 2013

Lost and Bitchy

Hungover and trying to deal with a very cranky redhead.

I am signed up for the Chuckanut 50k in Fairhaven, Washington for March 16. Last Sunday, Meghan, Barry (doing his first long run after rehabbing a semi-busted calf / ankle) and Katie and I took a road trip to run 36k of the race course.

My two trail running goals: don't get lost and don't get injured. This run, I was 0 for 2.

I mean early
The day started promisingly: Meghan and I got up at 5am, and were on the road by 5:45 to pick up Barry and Katie. The fading moon and clear sky promised a good day. Katie bounded out of her apartment towards the car when we pulled up outside. Barry was 100% outside on time for his pick-up. He also was speaking....very....slowly and smelled strongly of alcohol. Barry admitted to drinking about 7 glasses of wine the night before, and getting three hours of sleep. In other words, he was completely prepared to help with navigation duties. At certain intervals, some pretty bad smells came from the backseat of the car (I am not naming names here), and we were forced to roll down our windows. Barry: "It's not me - it's because we're going through an agricultural area."

My driving skills, google maps, and Barry's excellent road navigation ensured that we made it through the empty highways, across the border, and to the planned parking lot just before 8am.

Joining us for this adventure were fellow VFAC-ers, and seriously bad-ass fast as hell masters runners Mary, Rebecca, Sabrina and Helen. They had done all or part of the Fat Ass 50k, and decided that they wanted more. (except for Helen, who was being an amazing run-buddy and coming along for the company).

"it'll be totally fine!"
We threw out the idea of running part of the Chuckanut race course to some of our other trail buddies. Donovan thought the run would be sort of a gongshow, and declined in favour of doing a 2hr run (that actually kept to two hours) with Ramsey. When Brooke heard that Barry and I would be navigating, she also refused. And stated (a couple times) that she was worried about us.

When there's a map like this (below), and Barry has uploaded the 2010 course route onto his GPS, what is there to worry about?

I need to learn to read a map.

this is awesome!
We were definitely on the right route for at least the first 14k. And it was gorgeous. The trail was singletrack, but not the usual north shore kind where I constantly feared for my life. The trees loomed over us covered with moss, and the clouds overhead showed signs of burning off to blue sky. As we climbed, we got glimpses of the ocean through the trees. We looped around some small lakes, with hanging branches reflecting off the water. The trail was muddy, but nothing compared to the NF 50. I was (and still remain) a bit freaked out about race day, but the practice had me a bit less scared.

I think all Garmins are cursed
Barry's Garmin has a feature where maps can be uploaded online. The watch screen then would show a small map of any intersections we approached. If we went the wrong way, it would beep at us to turn around. At the first several intersections, this was great: an electronic safety blanket. We ran in one direction, Garmin said no, we went the other way, and got the reassuring "you're on the right course!" signal.

Then we got to one intersection, where the trail got a bit less defined and a bit more fun. Or something like that. We walked over partially submerged logs through a boggy area. Then...the trail sort of disappeared.
Or, there were many "trails" in the spaces between large trees. Meghan followed one smaller one that climbed up onto a small ridge and looked much less travelled. We went along this a bit, but I expressed doubts. Barry's GPS said we were 150m from the right route. So we turned back to the intersection. We couldn't find any other routes, so we trusted GPS and went through the bog a second time, and up onto the ridge. And kept going.

The trail along the ridge was beautiful - pine needles on the ground, running right alongside another small lake. I still didn't know if it was the right way, and wondered if we should back-track. "Guys, do we have the right trail?" Meghan: "well, we have the best trail." - fair point.

uh - oh
The gorgeous trail ended, and we were back on something that looked a bit more definitive. By this point, we had been running for 2.5hrs. We had food, and some water. (Meghan's hydration pack leaked. After updates every 5 minutes or so about how wet her ass was becoming, she dumped out the rest of her water in hopes of eventually drying out her tights). We then came to a 4 way intersection. This was nowhere on the map. Barry's GPS had us several kilometres off-course. I started to get a bit panicked by this point. I wanted to run down one of the logging roads, which I assumed would rendezvous with areal road, then find our way back. The others quite reasonably-pointed out the shortcomings with this plan.

Barry had (mostly) sobered up by this point, so did his best to navigate with his watch and the map, which showed the trails mostly as a series of overlapping squiggles. Barry's Garmin finally located us (sort of) to show we were way off-course. Then we activated the compass feature in Katie's iPhone to navigate us back. The decision was made to backtrack to another intersection. We got there, and still no clue.

getting high
Meghan drew on her four summers' of firefighting experience: we would need to get to a high point to we could get our bearings. And that is how we ended up hiking straight up through a clear-cut to the top of the mountain.

From here, a couple things happened. We were able to see the direction we were supposed to be running in. We did not see a trail there. We saw the lake we had run around. At this point, we had been running well over three hours. My left calf had started with a dull ache, which was becoming something more alarming. I was not quite ready for more route-finding.

So this is where I started to cry. And use swear words (a lot of them) to convince the rest to backtrack. Luckily, it turned out that we would only be another hour or less from the parking lot (awesome)! Meghan suggested we should look for a shortcut back. This was not especially well-received by me. I think it was at this point that Meghan and Katie started to go a bit ahead. Barry, through either coming back for an injury or lack of self-preservation skills, kept running with me.

Coming down the final descent, we ran into Sabrina. It turned out that her group had also gotten lost - even earlier than us. It was great to have company running down the final stretch. And just like that - we were almost back at the car. The clouds cleared and shafts of sunlight came through the trees. Being back in the parking lot with the rest of the group felt a bit surreal.

photo courtesy of May Walsh

In true north-shore running fashion, pretty much everyone (except me) did a full-on parking lot change. After 34k and almost 1300m climbing, we didn't have the energy to change any other way.

photo courtesy of Mary Walsh

recovery food
Barry (without the help of his GPS) navigated us to the pub. While waiting for a table, Katie and Meghan went off in search of coffee. Barry did everything in his power to cheer me up, as my leg was still bugging me.
Barry: do you want a beer?
Me: *mope*
Barry, 1 minute later: "I ordered a beer - do you want wine?"
Me: *moping, and sort of blocking people walking around*
Barry: "I really think you should have wine."

Rebecca, Mary, Helen and Sabrina soon joined us. And...a bit later...Alicia, Tara, and Laurel! They had also decided to come run the course. And they had actually managed to stay on route! In true ultrarunner fashion, they all ordered beers as soon as they arrived.

Even after eating some solid food, I was still cranky. I had uncharacteristically refused to have recovery wine (usually my go-to after any long run). Meghan drove the way back, and I napped / sulked in the backseat. I was frustrated that I couldn't navigate, and worried about getting lost during the race. My leg hurt, and I wondered if I would even be able to race Chuckanut. I'd been training decently hard, and had been feeling tired - if I'd been training to the edge, did I just go over it?

Even after a long shower, I still had dirt in my toenails. I ended up over at Donovan's, attempting to describe the run. Then I saw Barry's post to facebook, and Katie's picture of us lost. The whole thing became pretty funny - after all, we did make it back to the parking lot not too much worse for the wear? I ended the day drinking a beer in a very-nice-smelling bubble bath - after confirming that Katie, Meghan, and Barry would all continue to talk to me and be my friends.

take what your heart can take
I love trails in a special way. I do road races and training runs - they're great, too. It gets my body strong, and clears my mind. But being out, surrounded by trees, going up mountains, out for hours and hours - gets me right straight open inside down to my soul. And the highs from those runs are fantastic. The flipside is the lows from those happen, too, and are difficult. I struggle sometimes with getting anxious - I'm bad at navigating, and I sometimes feel like my body is constantly on the edge as I build up mileage and intensity. Getting lost and worrying if I can hold up enough to make it back is a scary feeling. When I have good runs, I feel almost invincible. I forget that I've only been really training for 6 weeks, and don't have the same base I had last fall. And I fight the inevitable: injuries happen, setbacks happen, and nothing goes as planned.

I work to keep track of what matters: in the end, races will make me feel great - for a few hours. Then, a bit empty. The reason I do what I do is to go to beautiful places with my friends, and share that experience. The quirks that happen along the way (even the clearcut route finding attempts) are the things we talk about, and laugh about later. In the end, yeah, we'll have a race resume, and hopefully we'll be happy with it. But we'll also have pictures of us: muddy shoes, big smiles, and a background of the mountains. And, most of all, our friendship: being there to cheer each other on at races, support each other, and laugh together. The people I have met are the biggest reason why I love running so much.

(postscript: after a Dr. Ramsey visit, my leg is better and I'm ready to take on the Chuckanut race - hopefully on course this time, too! Katie, Barry, Meghan and I are also still running Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim - accompanied by Allison and Alicia - this May. We will not get lost this time!)

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