I don't know about you, but when I just learned about ultras, there were 2 I heard of as ultimate goals - Western States and Badwater. My first year of venturing into the distance I took family for a CA 2-week vacation road trip, and we, of course, visited (and took pictures at, and hiked/ran parts of) both courses. That was also the year I realized my love for trails, as well as my potential as a much better trail runner than a road runner - and Badwater, with its pavement, 130F, desert views, and $4,000 on average to spend to make the race happen, was gone as if it never existed.
I really dislike heat. Heat and humidity. I can make do with 90F of thin dry air in the mountains, but that's about it. Last year I got burnt on running simply because it was mid-July, and "hot running" already lasted for us here, in Austin, for 3.5 months at this point. This year I planned a break, with a different agenda inside the summer to keep me occupied.
But, apparently, I love running. You know how I often claim I am not a runner, I love mountains and single-track trails, and vast views, and green trees, and I can do whatever as long as I am out there...yup, all that, and I love running. Guilty as charged. So, despite having a written plan for that silly body show of mine where it says "walk on TM on incline 3.5% at 3.5mph" (honestly, I can easily fall asleep at this pace/grade combination), I figured I need to run. Besides, I am feeling rather fat and can NOT for the life of me loose that lower belly pouch! I mean, ok, I discovered, finally, after browsing all those body-show-related websites, that when they say "3 oz chicken breast and 4 oz broccoli", they mean exactly that, not "3 oz chicken breast lunch meat and some tomato, pepper, lettuce and hot sauce". I better buckle up, otherwise all that money so far spent on personal trainers are wasted (that's not to be grateful that my body had changed drastically, thanks to them, and my muscle mass grew while my fat percentage dropped). Anyhow, I believe those "walk on TM..." routines are for regular body-builders who's bodies are not used to be burning calories during serious aerobic (and sometimes anaerobic) activities.
You read me right. I have designed my own running training inside this body-building training. Step by step. 3 miles here, 5 miles there. Intervals on the track (yay, me, made through 'em all, even though had to talk myself into each and every one of them on Thursday!). Power-walks home from work (just to squeeze my miles into a week). And - the ("longer") trail run...
Today is Larry's birthday. My boy is so big now:) He has been on his own quest to drop some, gain some, better some - and had been awesomely successful (under a watchful eye of yours truly...telling you, being part of my family is a hard work, it basically sucks!). He had a choice on when he is doing his long run, and when I will be getting out (we have Harrison this month, and so need to alternate days for training out of the house). He chose today, his birthday, as a morning to get out, and I could sleep in. It kind of messed me up - I am a morning person (my alarm is set at 4:45 am, and 4:30 am on Fridays). His mom is in town. They left for lunch. I started walking to the gym at our apartment complex...
And suddenly I was missing the trails. Let me tell you, it is 1 pm. I live in Texas. It is 102F, 40% humidity, and heat index 105F. I thought - piece of cake. Turned around, put trail shoes on, picked a second bottle, texted Larry I am off for a 10M loop, and hit the trailhead (in the middle of our apartment complex, yes, we are lucky bustards to live like that, that's why we are not buying no houses now). I gave myself to complete by 3 pm.
The sun and heat zapped the energy in about 10 minutes. I figured, I am not in a particular hurry, I just need to keep moving. I was sucking on my bottle like crazy, and soon was trying to decide whether I should shorten the loop down to 7M. I figured I'll make that decision when come to the intersection where that extra-3M adds on depending on how my water supply is doing.
So, I am moving along. Slowly, half-walking. Whatever, still beats staying home, or eating Mexican food (not my personal food choice on a good day, yet along when I am on some crazy diet). Music is in my ears, step, step, sip, sip. My throat is dry with every inhale when my mouth is open. I am thinking - wow, that's what must it feel like, Badwater (somewhere before sunrise, may I add). Few more steps. Not a single soul, not animal, not even spider. No crazy critters or snakes. Only idiots. Only I. Uphill. 0.7M of making a small decision on each step: do I lift my leg up this ledge, or take a breath first? Sweat pours into my eyes - I forgot I need a bandana when running in Texas summer. I can't see where in the world I am stepping to. I start thinking it was a really bad idea, and I shall not take the add-on. I feel guilty about this downgrading of a run, but smart.
Hill is over, road levels off, and I kind of run in bursts, and not even sip on my bottle. Which propels me past the intersection...I am bound to make it all 10. Oh, joy...at least there is some shade on this loop-end. Mind you, "shade" in Texan is not something most of you (unless you live in Texas or Arizona) imagine. Shade is produced by somewhat taller than you something what locals call "trees" yet look more like shrubs to me, and the leaves are sparse, so it's mostly just branches, thus the "shade" provided is like a spider-web see-through worn-out old knitted scarf. You still are going to love every inch of it. And when the wind comes - it is something of a breeze that potentially can shake a baby-bird's feather if it tries - you pray to Gods. And, I had a cloud on the sky - all of for 63 seconds, you bet I timed it! And you are grateful for it too!
Not soon enough to die, but enough to hate my life, the additional loop was over, and I thought "It's all downhill from here". So, I run, and my body begs me to take a walk break. I say - hell with you, in the next 5 minutes there will be a little incline, you can walk there! Body tries and complies...but 3 minutes later gives up, in hot sweat and cold shivers. So, I walk, dizzy, and by now out of water. Great. I didn't take my cell phone, otherwise the only idea I have is to call Larry and ask for a icy-cold water bottle. That, and a helicopter ride.
Eventually, the "big loop" is over too, and I have 1 mile to go. You want to know how hot it was? Under the highway bridge, at the edge of the park, with 1 mile to go, there is a Ranger's truck, and in the back of it a familiar sight of an orange 10 gallon water cooler - and I am not sure if I am hallucinating or is it true. On the side of a cooler there is a pasted-on note "FREE". If I tell you that ranger saved my life, it would probably be exaggeration, but it was pretty darn close. I think I was about to have a heat stroke. I fill my water bottle and not even 5 steps away drink half of it. I think about turning back - but figure it'd be unfair to other idiots who decided to go for a walk on that day, at that time. So, I suck my bottle as I walk home...
This loop on a good day takes me close to 1:50 (with a PB of 1:40, and I could go on about how technical, rocky, and actually quite seriously hilly it is, but I'll leave you at that - I am proud of my 1:40). Today it felt like 2.5 hrs. When I touched the tree (a ritual I brought from Portland from my girl Gail), the timer said "1:56". I crawled home, sucked on a glass of ice-cold water, and reached for a trophy from the shelf I still have (one of 2 saved, all others dumped). I felt I really deserved it today.
Please, never quote me on this. It's the heat stroke talking. I am gonna go get another tall glass of water now:)