A couple weekends ago, I ran the 50-kilometer distance at the Slickrock Races. The whole weekend, from front to back, was akin to visiting an alternate version of reality. In short, I loved it.
Danni had long planned to run the 100-mile distance, and she’d been applying vague pressure (In the forms of tempting Facebook posts and taunting email messages, mostly.) for me to join her and the small cadre of friends she was assembling in the desert. I make decisions poorly, so it wasn’t until my Internet stalker-friend Roger (Just kidding. Roger rocks.) decided that he, too, would grace the Utah red rocks with his presence during his fast-neurotic-Aussie-who-never-sleeps American tour that I registered for the race.
Danni and I’s favorite shared hobby, aside from traveling decent distances through the wilds together, is eating. After she rolled into Salt Lake City on Thursday evening, she took me to an Indian restaurant and stuffed me like a luau pig. Amply loaded with nicely-spiced carbohydrates, I returned the favor by wedging her for the night into our Park City loft (Otherwise known as the craziest guest room ever.).
Danni makes me laugh a lot, so our Friday drive to Moab was mildly dangerous. It went like this: Danni says something funny. I laugh until I cry and can’t see the road. We both say “Whoa!” when I veer over one line or the other. I correct our forward progress and life continues. Repeat in 22 minutes. We also had the interesting experience of a Utah traffic jam, the hugestever herd of sheep crossing the road.
Danni and I’s afternoon and evening in the red rocks was rockin’. We hung out at the race’s start line/finish line/campsite. We drank beer. I was decidedly unhelpful in helping Danni re-pack her drop bags when the race directors announced they had to change the race course (Terrible weather graced Utah in the five days before the race. While marking the course, the director sunk a Jeep deep into quicksand. As of the pre-race briefing, the Jeep still sat in wet sand up to its windows. The director was so calm when he said there would be course changes due to a “quicksand situation.”).
We in-person met Roger and Beat, another ultrarunner who lives in California but is from Germany and decidedly Euro in everythingabouthim. The four of us drank more beer, ate a silly volume of food, and teased each other endlessly at the Moab Brewery that night. When I tucked myself into bed at the race’s campsite, I was certain that the weekend was already awesome.
That is, until I woke up to a 4am patter of rain. I’m joking. I lived at Big Bend National Park in the middle of the Chihuahuan Desert for five years. As a result, I will forever be kid-giddy whenever water douses dry, desert Earth. When the races started in a drizzle at 7am, next to a car stuck axle-deep in mud and with us soaking wet, the day’s adventure dial was turned to high.
The race. In summary, I experienced about a year of injury from the spring of 2010 to the spring of 2011. After a long lapse from most forms of training, I spent the spring, summer, and early fall of 2011 doing for-fun running, 10 to 20 hours a week of endurance runs on mountain trails. I hadn’t raced in all of that time. My goal for the Slickrock 50km was to, thus, just run. To run evenly from beginning to end and to feel awesome doing so.
That’s exactly how it went. The day proved that my six months of base training has created a solid, slow woman. I did not move fast, but I did enjoy every moment. Click here for a look-see of me about 20 miles in (It’s a photo by the race’s photographer, Michael Lebowitz. As an aside, he was ear-to-ear grinning each time I saw him out there in the mud and rain. Check out the rest of his race gallery if you’re digging the idea of the Slickrock Races. His photos do great justice to the race’s scenery and culture.).
Because of the “quicksand situation,” us 50km runners were re-routed to and from the 100-mile race’s second aid station. Let’s, thus, call our race a generous 50 kilometers. The course rang in at a bit under 36 miles, instead of 31. I missed some obvious pink ribbons at a critical turn while chatting with another woman, and, like many others, ran some off-piste distance, too. Lucky for me, a man about a half mile behind us with a booming voice shouted that we were off course, so my extra distance was a lot less than others’.
I feel compelled to tell you that my toe exploded about two miles from the finish. I have a toenail that’s permanently warped from a life of outdoor activity. Usually, it’s in some state of non-existence, as it falls off often. This time, the toenail was firmly in place at the race start. All day, pressure built underneath it until suddenly the whole thing lifted off its bed in a painful explosion. Our nervous systems are miraculous entities, though, and it was numb about 350 steps later.
Roger, who also ran the 50km, and I chilled for a bit at the finish line. It was a hoot seeing him on course because he’s about eight feet tall, was decked out in Salomon Exo gear, bounced around on size 13 Hoka One Ones, and generally looked like he was out for an acid-laced jog in the desert. I was sad to see him drive off into the red mud as he began his journey back to Australia. The dood is a nut ball in the best kind of way and I can’t wait until the next time we cross paths.
I spent a longlonglong time that late afternoon and evening hanging at the Gold Bar Aid Station for the 100-mile race. It was something like 62 miles into the race and I had the very important job of cheering for Beat and Danni when they came through. It was a gorgeous nook of the planet and the two volunteers and one dog there were the kindest of company. As a bonus, the rain had yielded to clear skies earlier in the afternoon.
The lead runners passed through a bit before dark; Beat arrived at about 8pm; and Danni and her pacer rolled through at about 9pm. Beat looked confused when I appeared with a hug and hello. With the black night, the red rocks, the settling chill, and a big moon, we could have been on Mars. Plus, the guy was deep into the throes of throwing himself a 100 miles across the desert. I can understand the confusion. Once he realized who I was, he smiled widely and exploded an approximately 900-word soliloquy about the beauty of Utah. It was cool stuff.
When Danni and Jill, her pacer, came in, I could hear their chatter from a quarter mile out. I lovedsoverymuch that noise. Danni is one of those people who rolls with whatever punch life packs with a wide smile on her face, be it a bigarse blister on her big toe, 62 miles of slickrock, five hours of rain, and several course changes (There was a second, mid-race course change for the 100 milers because of vandalism to course markings.). I love that girl and her attitude.
There, I met Jill for the first time. As a stand-alone entity, this was a unique experience. Jill’s a bit of a public figure. She publishes a widely-read outdoor blog and has written two books about her adventures. Even more, she writes with her heart on her sleeve so, if you tune into her words like I do, you feel like you know the woman. And, even moremore, she’s friends with some of my friends, so I’ve heard ample second-person verbage about her. In short, when the willow-y blonde emerged out of the dark, I met someone I felt like I already knew.
After the ladies headed back out, I hightailed it to the starting line/finish line/campsite and put head to pillow on this good day in paradise. When I became conscious nine hours later, I saw Beat crawling out of his tent. He’d finished his race in the quiet of the night and was just waking from a nap. We chatted for about seven seconds until we recognized Danni’s familiar gait loping toward the finish. In something around 25 1/2 hours, Danni finished the Slickrock 100 with that same smile on her face.
We hung out for a bit, drank fresh-pressed, Jetboil-ed coffee (Heaven!), and gawked at Danni’s grossly swollen hands (Close to hell, it appeared.). After packing up the cars, we hightailed it to Ray’s Tavern in Green River on Jill’s recommendation. The Mormon town was empty on this Sunday at midday, but somehow Ray’s was open and bustling. A solid 1000 calories of bar food later and some fun swapping of race stories among Beat, Jill, Danni, and I, we parted ways. Danni slept with her mouth wide open all the way back to Park City, save for when she woke up to apologize for sleeping. The woman stayed up all night to run a long way, so I wasn’t expecting the same circus of entertainment as our drive to Moab. I found it easy to coax her back to sleep.
I was sad to send Danni off on Monday morning. While she may very well have been glad to say good-bye to me, I can’t get enough of her. I laugh hard when she’s around. More importantly, she points me toward all the good things in life like tasty food, decent beer, and the knowledge that living life well is all about a positive attitude.
After weekending at the Slickrock Races, there are a few things I know for sure:
1. As a runner, I’m back.
2. I love Danni.
3. Roger and Beat are awesome looneys.
4. Jill in person is verymuchlike the Jill of her writings.
5. Attitude is everything.
6. I’m grateful for the tireless work of the races’ directors and volunteers. They were handed a doozy of last-minute problems and they pulled the thing off. Thank you!