Where did I leave off, right I was all by myself…
Pinchot Cabin to Washington Park – 9.68 miles, +813ft,-2056 ft
I’m all by myself. It’s dark, it’s quiet, and it’s kind of cold. I can fix the cold, slip on my jacket and my gloves, much better. The quiet, I can fix that too, Edge of Glory (yes the Lady Gaga song, my little sister was going to have a flash mob at her wedding and it turns out that I was one of the few who constantly practiced so sadly I know all the words to that song, FYI- flash mob never happened) starts playing in my head and I sing to myself a little and for some reason I swear I can hear bells jingling every time the wind blows. I try to eat, but my body decides it’s time to “reset” and I vomit up a whole honey stinger waffle on the side of the trail. That sucked, I feel icky, and I swear I hear bells. Alright Lady Gaga, let’s get going. Okay the bell noise is getting louder and I feel like the trail blazes are moving ahead, is this the hallucinations that ultra runners often speak of? Dan saw my cousin Alex slack lining, why do I hear bells and see moving reflective trail blazes? Hang on….is that???? It can’t be, but that would explain the bells. I speed up (as much as I can) and sure enough I find myself behind Ed (who is dressed like a jester, bells and all!) and Dan B. I think we were all surprised to see one another, but Dan B. told me to jump up front since I seemed to be having no trouble finding the trail (thank you new head lamp). I warned them that they may have to endure some of my singing but they seemed ok with that, I was in a groove and had to keep moving forward while I could. The trail finally led to a road that took us up to another road that we crossed and we found ourselves standing at the top of the steep 2 mile descent into Washington Park, oh how I wanted to be there, but I was completely freaked out about having to go down this trail. There was nothing I could do but keep going forward, my trekking poles had become a nuisance (I would not recommend poles on this course, more hassle than help) so I folded them up and started my descent. There was a lot of swearing happening between the three of us and I ended up on my butt, often, although that seemed better than the alternative of falling on my face. Eventually we made it out and were greeted by a cheering squad at the aid station (it was 2 am, what were all these people doing here?). I was so happy to see Dan, and I was hoping that this would be the motivation to keep going. Honestly, I was worried about going on, I hadn’t eaten anything in nearly 2 hours and my feet were getting worse, but since I break my “race in pieces” I refuse to make any decisions until I get to the end of one piece. Once again Ed was trying to help me deal with my stomach and got me eating some soup and avocado (I know it sounds gross, but it was good and apparently fat is what helps an ailing tummy) Dan saw to my feet, a big thanks to the man who stood by with a flashlight so Dan could see what he was doing. Once again the aid station volunteers were incredible, a blanket was wrapped around me so I wouldn’t get cold and I don’t even know whose chair I was sitting in but I hope I didn’t make it too smelly. Dan B. was out of the aid station quick, then Ed was out of there, I decided to change into my compression shorts because my hips were starting to get sore, of course this is no easy feat when you have fresh legs let alone 50 miles tired out legs. Finally I was decent and we could head out, I know I wasted way too much time here but I needed the break and mainly the food that I managed to get down, and most importantly is that Dan was officially now my pacer, and we had to get a move on.
Washington Park to Hells Gate – 5.23 miles, +1215ft,-788ft
I was elated to have Dan with me, he just talked at me as we started to navigate the next portion of the course (I had smartly ditched my poles and was grateful for that as I had to scramble of the side of a river bed just to leave the aid station) but very quickly we were slowed by what I can only term “long grassy shit”. I’m sorry but that is what it was. You couldn’t see where you were stepping or what you were stepping on, even Dan was swearing and we were only a mile out from the aid station. “Welcome to hell Honey, isn’t it fun!?!?!” In all honesty Dan was an amazing pacer, I had told him from the get go that I needed “tough love” and constant pushing, don’t baby me and don’t let me wallow, and he did a great job following my instructions. Soon enough we had caught up to Ed, and we would stick together until the Myrtle trail. It seemed to take ages to get to the Hells Gate aid station but once there Dan didn’t let me linger, especially since the DC Boys were there and they seemed to be in a negative funk, Dan didn’t want me to get sucked in, so he got me through there fast (and once again the volunteers were amazing).
Hells Gate to Buck Springs – 7.68 miles, +1874ft,-678ft
On the road again, we managed to get lost once, it was not easy to navigate in the dark, I somehow got myself hung up on some sort of a spiky bush, Dan set me free and we got back on track, but then we hit a fork in the road. Since Ed and I had been lost earlier in the race, we were unwillingly to just follow the markings, and asked Dan to head down the unmarked trail to scout for us, in the mean time the DC Boys and their pacer caught up and the whole debate was re-ignited. Dan took the decision out of my hands and stated that we were going the way of the markers and I was a good runner and just followed (secretly praying he was right). He was correct and we made a hard left onto the Myrtle Trail. I would use the word “trail” loosely to describe this route. More like scaling a cliff in the general direction of up. It was getting light now, but this climb was horrible, it was a scramble, I was using my hands and we were on the edge of a cliff. I lost it, I just started to cry (I don’t know why I do this), thankfully Dan is tough and even though he would have loved to scoop me up and carried me off that cliff ledge, he told me this too would pass and to keep following him. And always the obedient runner I did, on the condition that I would receive a hug at the top, best hug ever! After this we were on a road for about 4 miles, leading us to the next aid station and the next hard cut-off, we had about an hour to make it. There was a lot of “run to the next tree”, “next sign”, etc, but Dan did it, he got me to Buck Springs with 7 minutes to spare. I plopped down on a chair and asked for some soup. Dan set about unloading my night gear and getting me set up to head out again, there were three other runners also sitting by the fire. Mark, who had completed the grand slam this year, had fallen off Myrtle but landed on a ledge injuring his knee (it was wrapped up in ice and I wondered how the heck he made it to the aid station). Geoff who has finished the Hurt 100 was calling it quits and Alex, who asked “Are you Heather from Race In Pieces?” This got my attention, why in the world does this man know about my blog? “Um, yes, that’s me” It turns out that Alex had read our blog from a posting on Facebook, he knew all about the Death Race attempt, it was very strange, and motivating. I stood up to go, which seemed to shock even the aid station volunteers, so I asked “can I go? I know it’s 3 minutes passed 8, but I was here before 8…” I was told “of course go enjoy. ” Alex decided to join us. My goodness we were becoming a pack.
Buck Springs to Pinchot Cabin – 8.25 miles, +1707ft,-1125ft
Why couldn’t more of the race be like this? I loved this trail, I was running! Like really running, it was awesome. Alex was awesome company, it was decided that he and I could be great examples of how not to run this race, but hey we were having fun. (Alex had been in second place at one point, but then he got lost, forgot his water bottles at an aid station and needed a nap, all things that apparently slow you down). We got hung up at Barbershop Canyon, when the markers disappeared. We wandered around looking for a trail for about 10 minutes when the trail sweeper, Mike, caught up to us. I thought our race was over, but Mike was cool, he wasn’t going to throw us off the trail. He however didn’t know where the trail was either, while he went to higher ground to make a phone call, I finally noticed the cut-out blazes on some trees, I had found the trail! But we did the right thing and waited for Mike to get back so we could tell him which way to go! As we approached the next aid station, Dan ran ahead to “check us in” and to find out wether or not it was a hard cut-off (it wasn’t). The gang at Pichot Cabin were awesome, I was asked about my feet (I briefly wondered how they knew about my feet…oh yeah they fixed them). They we’re really feeling positive about our chances of making Washington Park by 3pm (the next hard cut-off). That buoyed me and off we went, of course I forgot that we had to go to Houston Brothers first.
Pinchot Cabin to Houston Brothers – 7.13 miles, +1212ft,-416ft
It turned out that Mike would be sweeping up behind us all the way to Washington Park. It was fun to have someone else to talk to for awhile. We had 12km to get to Houston Brothers and I rocked it for the first 6km. Then things just turned to crap, I don’t know what to say, but I couldn’t move fast anymore. My stomach was making all sorts of noises, I had actually resorted to drinking Dan’s vitargos because it was going down and staying there. And of course we now hit the undulating section, I knew the aid station was at the top of a hill, so every time we crested a climb I was all “can you see it? is it there?” and disappointingly it wasn’t. And then I started to loose it again, the tears just burst forth. Why must I cry? Dan and Alex had pulled ahead at this point and Mike was somewhere behind me removing ribbons and I realised that I was not going to make it. I just couldn’t move fast, heck I was barely moving forward. Dan had stopped to wait for me and when I caught up I enquired about Alex, Dan had dispatched him (thankfully) he could hear me crying and figured things weren’t going well and didn’t want us holding anyone back. I was glad, Alex had a damn good chance of finishing this thing, I however felt defeated and plopped myself down of a fallen tree. Mike caught up and got to witness me in all my snot faced glory, it was then that I noticed I’d sat down by someone’s puke, and then it hit me, I remembered that puke, it was at the bottom of the hill just after the Houston Brothers aid station! I remembered commenting that someone’s soup hadn’t gone down well, we we’re almost there, for sure this time, one more up. And so I climbed one last hill and we found a sweet women standing at the top asking if I was Heather, I said yes, and she said “I’m sorry but you’re done”, I hugged her. Seriously, I hugged this poor woman. Then we found Dan B. and his pacer, this would be the first time that he’d every timed out of race, and he wanted to shake my hand! We were piled into the volunteers RV and were driven down the road, we passed Alex and we cheered and then suddenly they pulled over and told us that we had a 2 mile walk down to Washington Park aid station. Huh? I was so confused, they offered to take me to the finish line, but I didn’t want to separate from Dan (I was still a little emotional). So there I stood atop that stupid steep trail once again, sigh, sigh, sigh. Ok, I have to admit it wasn’t as bad in the daylight, but my legs had kind of seized up in the RV (even though it was only a 10 minute drive). A third of the way down Alex passed us, we cheered as much as we could and wished him luck.
It took about an hour for us to get down to the aid station, the whole time I imagined the volunteers cursing me having to wait for my sorry butt to get there before they could head out, how wrong I was. We were greeted with cheers, from the volunteers, other racers who had dropped out and their crew had hung around to cheer us in. I’ve never been so touched in my life. Dan bundled me into the car and we drove around to the finish to pick up my drop bags. There I was greeted by Jen (RD’s wife) and Jeremy (RD)who congratulated me on my hard fought battle, the big question was would I be back next year? At the time I was very quick to say no, but now…I’m not so sure. This race was an amazing experience for sure, the people who ran it, ran in it, and crewed it were incredible. I was star struck, humbled, and inspired.
I eagerly awaited the results that night to see if Alex, Danny and Deron had finished, and was over the moon to find they did it. I was so proud of them, even if I had only spent a few hours with each of them.
Of the 37 starters, 9 managed to cross the finish line, 0 females. That’s right not a single lady managed to finish, by the time I left Buck Springs there were only 2 of us on the course, Deva timed out at the same spot as me. I managed 79 official miles, but if you include the time I was lost and having to walk into Washington Park Aid Station it was about 85 miles traversed and 28.5 hours on my feet. That’s another reason that I have a slight pull to come back, I’d really like there to a female finisher next year, and I figure I would have an advantage having seen the whole course (no guarantees but knowing what you’re up against is part of the battle) but I really feel I need to complete a 100 miler first. Jeremy had always said that the Mogollon was not an ideal first timer course and he was right (although I know at least two of the finishers were first timers). I don’t know where that leaves me, but I will tell anyone to run this race.