Sunday, August 11, 2013

Even when my mind is unwilling, my legs will carry me ~

I was having some trouble last week motivating to drive to Afton, Wyoming for a race that I had planned on running.  I was putting quite a bit of pressure on myself, even though I knew I would run it slower than I did 4 years ago which was the last time I was there.  I had been planning on getting up to Afton each and every year because it's such a great event, but my mind was just telling me that it was, again, too much trouble to drive 3 hours north and that the race atmosphere would be just too nerve-racking for me.  I just wasn't in the mood and was looking for excuses not to go.

I motivated anyway, somehow.  Friday morning, I dropped the dogs off at the kennel and nearly cried about it, because they are just such good companions and all I really wanted to do was pack them up with my backpacking gear and head out into the mountains with them, alone, for a few days.  I wasn't sure I was in the mood for a big, social event (the race has doubled in size since the last time I was there in 2010).

I drove up I-84 through South Ogden Canyon, along the Weber River.  It was a really nice drive, and I started to relax a bit.  Then, a moment of panic ~ I had forgotten my headphones to listen to my music during the race.  Dang it!  You don't even want to know how many sets of headphones that I have, because this was not the first time I had done this.  I resolved to stop at the Flying J gas station in Evanston because they have a bit of a store inside and I was pretty sure I could get a set of cheap headphones at it.  I usually stop at the Maverick at the next exit, and had quite a bit of internal debate on which gas station to actually stop at (I know ~ not a big deal, but I really just wanted to get to Afton and relax) but I ended up going to the Flying J.

I got out of my car and there, across the parking lot was my friend Gina from work sipping on a Diet Coke next to her car.  No way!  I ran across the parking lot and hugged her ~ like a swarm of bees attacking her ~ she had no idea who this crazy woman was running towards her.  She and her family were headed up to a friend's cabin at Bear Lake for the weekend.  We exchanged phone numbers and she invited me to come to the cabin after my race on Saturday.

I got up to Afton, and it was too early to check in so I drove up and down Main Street a couple of times, stopped in the ranger station and got a good map of the area and took a nap for 30 minutes in the elementary school parking lot.  When I got back to Gardner's Country Village (gas station, burger joint, U-Haul rental, and motel all-in-one), I was a bit disappointed with the general shabbiness of my room, but was thankful to have a place to lay my head for the night.  The Lincoln County Fair was the same weekend, and the motels were all sold out.   I took a bit of a nap and listened to the road graders backing up on the highway outside my window (it is road construction season in Wyoming, after all).

When I woke up, it was almost time to go to the pre-race meeting, so I drove to the Red Baron burger drive-in (it was AMAZING!) and then to the park in town.  Meeting up with friends who were also running the race was good and set my mind somewhat at ease, making me less apprehensive about the next day.  I got my sweet rust-orange hoodie and listened to Ty Draney's pre-race instructions, hooked up a ride to the start with my friend Scott Mason and his wife Julie, so I wouldn't have to worry about parking in the morning, and headed back to the motel.

I took some photos of the sunset in Afton before going to bed.  It was amazing.  It set my mind at ease.

4:15am came way too quickly, but I realized I had slept really well through the night.  I packed up my stuff and put it in the car, and the Masons came and got me, as planned, at 4:45am and we headed up Cottonwood Canyon to the start.

Still apprehensive and not knowing that I really wanted to race, I walked back and forth along the dirt road near the start and 6am was soon upon us.  I wore my puffy coat until the very last minute until Julie took it from me.

Running up the dirt road at the start, I realized that even though my head wasn't in the game, my legs and body felt pretty good.  Getting to the top of the first climb, "Balls", at mile 3.5, some kids were ringing cowbells and cheering us on.  It was a very welcome sound.  Cruising along above Corral Creek, I had a bit of nausea building, so I wasted no time in taking a bit of anti-nausea medication.  I had learned my lesson at Bighorn that if I wait to take my nausea medication, I will only be nauseated for a longer amount of time (and miserable) and the feeling is not going to go away on its own.  It's best to just nip it in the bud.

I ended up running this section with another woman from Utah, Debbie, and we had a great time.  I typically keep my head down and my mouth shut and am a bit anti-social during the early stages of a race, but her personality was so bubbly and positive, I decided to stick together with her for a bit.  I told her I wasn't much of a morning person, and she definitely brightened my mood.

Looking around me during the race, I remembered why I enjoyed it so much in 2010 when I last ran it. The scenery is absolutely gorgeous.  There were a couple of tense moments getting towards the turn around with two-way traffic on the out-and-back course, but everything actually went quite smoothly.  I got to see a lot of my faster friends because of the out-and-back layout, and said hi to Luke Nelson at the spot where I predicted seeing him, gave him a quick pat on the back as he was leading the race (by a lot... ) and would likely win for his 6th year in a row.  The 25k race also starts where the 50k race turns around, so that was another 100 people who came up the hill "against the grain" so to speak.

As I ran the 8 miles down Swift Creek Drainage, I couldn't help but think that I was digging myself into quite a hole, as I would have to turn around and come right back out, grinding back up the climb to Corral Creek.  The aid station crews along the way were friendly and helpful, and no one seemed upset that this was a "cupless" race ~ they provided cans of soda and I just poured half a can at a time into my water bottle.  We don't need no stinking cups!  And the amount of trash that was cut out as a result must have been immense.

I paired up with another runner as we were leaving the aid station and we both joked a little about the amount of climbing that we would have to do to get back up to Corral Creek (about 8 miles and 3,000 ft up).  To tell you the truth, my brain left me on that climb out of Swift Creek, and the strength in my legs carried me.  I was not suffering as I passed nearly a dozen people on that climb.  Some were from the 50k race that I was doing, and some were from the 25k race.  I couldn't believe how I was picking them off going up that hill.  I filled my bottle at the first aid station up the hill with more Mtn Dew and water with Nuun (electrolyte tablet) and left two 25-year old guys sitting on a log who had arrived there before me.  As the race went on, I talked with more and more people, chatting with other racers as I passed them and also joking with the people at the aid-stations and thanking them for coming out to support us.  My mind was quickly changing as the day went on.

The mountain peaks, the wildflowers, the blue skies with big, white, puffy clouds all powered me uphill.  Before I knew it, I was at the top at the 23-mile mark.  I took a photo of myself at the top, and was so surprised at how good I felt.  My mind had been so unwilling to come up here to this race but my legs were carrying me.

I ran through by the Corral Creek Lake aid station, stopping quickly to fill my water bottle again, and left three other racers there who had arrived before me.  I ran with one woman for a while, but she soon faded on the descent into Corral Creek drainage and I didn't see her again until after the race.

I got to the third aid station, 5 miles from the finish, and met up with some of the kids from Ty Draney's cross country team (he is the race director and the high school cross country coach) and drew energy from their youthful smiles.  Honestly, I was feeling so good, I didn't want the day to end.  I was sad that I only had 5 miles to go and wished that I could run 100 miles.  The strength in my body and legs had changed my attitude of indifference into invincibility.

I cruised up the last climb of a 500 feet in a half-mile and reveled at the top.  It was only 3 and a half miles down to the finish line ~ 3+ miles and 2,500 feet down.  I found myself able to run some of the slight uphills that I had not been able to run 4 years before in those last few miles.  As I ran through the campground to the finish line, I heard my friends who had finished before me cheering my name.  I found my finish "kick" and ran 7:30 min-mi pace the last 100 meters to the line.  Ty and Luke were there greeting finishers with wide smiles and hugs.

I hung out with Luke and his wife Tanae for quite a while (and Pedro, the black lab) and another racer named Chris whom I met on that dreaded dirt-road finish at Bighorn, with a group of his friends.  I drank a half a PBR that Aric gave me as Debbie and I sat in lawn chairs in the middle of the dirt road, cheering on late-finishers.  Most of the HUMR (Happy Utah Mountain Runners) group were there and it was such a laid-back, fun atmosphere that I couldn't have imagined a better day.

My mind was unwilling to start the race, but my legs carried me to a strong finish at the El Vaquero Loco 50k ~ my legs carried me, and eventually changed my mind.

Sunset in Afton, Wyoming
the night before the race ~

The first climb up to "Balls" ~

Morning Glory in the Salt River Range ~

Top of Corral Creek drainage ~

View from the top towards the Swift Creek drainage ~

Debbie caught this photo of me
as we ran through Corral Creek
in the morning ~

Debbie Farka at Corral Creek Lake ~

Over the edge into Swift Creek drainage ~

Debbie Farka about to head into Swift Creek drainage ~

Top of Swift Creek ~

9 miles in and changing my mind ~ the day
was about to move from good to fabulous ~

The beautiful "slog" 8 miles up and out of Swift Creek ~

Top of Swift Creek (coming back out) ~
23 miles and feeling great ~

Corral Creek Lake, afternoon view ~

Beautiful view of Corral Creek peaks ~

Debbie and me chillin' at the finish area ~


  1. What a beautiful place! Congratulations on the strong finish!

  2. Congrats on a great race. You took some fantastic photos!

    1. Thanks Chris! Comming from you, that means a lot!

  3. I hope it doesn't creep you out having a complete stranger read your blog and comment, but my sister (Kelli Buttars) suggested I check it out. I started running a few years ago and I will be running my 7th marathon next month. I am considering making the leap to ultras. I thought I would start with a 50k and see how my body handles it...maybe the Antelope Island run in October. Do you have any advice for newbies?

    My biggest concerns at this point are:
    1. Consistency. My husband travels for a living and we have three small children. So, I don't have time to run every day. I typically do a few short runs during the week and one longer run per week. How many miles a week should I try to log to comfortably finish a 50k?

    2. I have zero trail experience.