It’s a sense of calm, a defensive apathy, a need to conserve. There’s a storm coming, and the only way to prepare for it is to show up ready to ride the waves.
This morning I’m running the Red Hot 33k in Moab. Hahaha oops. Hi Utah. Also hi I got up early enough to do this.
I’m wildly unprepared, finishing up a round of antibiotics for an inappropriate case of strep (long story, kind of), and still somehow stupidly excited. Road trips to explore beautiful places has been a constant around here, and I hope none of these adveture-enabling lunatics change their minds about them. Even the untrained racing part.
Just for shits and giggles, I finished the last 5% of this race report from my first “proper” trail race back in June.
Because why not.
Yes, I ran a race measured in kilometers. It was even on trails! It was also over
a month seven months ago.
But perhaps the most shocking thing here (because come on, no one’s shocked by the untimeliness) is that I ran a race at all. According to Athlinks (my only source of information, since I stopped keeping a running log and can’t backdate my brain past last week) it was my first race since the Deschutes 5k last August when I was in Bend for Oiselle Bird Camp, and my first trail race since Haulin Aspen Half, which I ran during Emily’s cross-country move road trip. To cap off the full-circledness, we stayed at the Flomas House that weekend, who own the company I now work for. Kinda bizarre tracing it back like that.
(wish I could trace back to wherever I left those sunglasses…)
Emily conned me into registering for Mary’s Peak 25K sometime back in May, probably after I said something along the lines of, “man I sure don’t miss running on concrete surrounded by a million people anymore!” which she apparently interpreted as, “get Sarah through the trail/ultra gateway, asap”
Sure, fine, sounds fun, twist my impressionable arm. I hear the snacks are great at trail races.
After weeks of subpar training, fluke and faux injuries, and a super random illness, we’d gone back and forth between “maybe we won’t race” and “maybe I won’t come at all” and “fuck it, let’s just sit on the Ninkasi patio all weekend.” Early Friday, a few hours before I was scheduled to maybe possibly leave, we decided that I’d come to Eugene and if we were up to it we’d drive out to the race, and if not we’d just play on the trails (and patios, obviously) in town. A happy medium between all the options, really.
* Remember when a plan (err, lack thereof) like this would’ve sent Type A stick-up-her-butt Sarah into a tailspin of uncontrollable uncontrolledness? I left that bitch in SoCal. Oregon Sarah is super chill and loves non-plans.*
Just as I was shutting down my computer at work and getting ready to point the Dodge west, I got the following confirmation to our itinerary:
I expected to start feeling some nerves on the drive over. Two and a half hours over the Cascade Mountains, lots without radio or cell service, could’ve been a bad recipe for a self-imposed mind fuck.
“This drive is longer than I remember…” (you’ll be running longer than this tomorrow)
“C’mon baby, rev that engine, push up this hill!” (are you going to be able to encourage your legs like this tomorrow?)
“Damn, I really need new wiper blades…” (speaking of new things, hope those new trail shoes you bought two days ago don’t ruin you!)
“Man there really isn’t a single radio station coming in.” (there isn’t going to be a god damn single note of musical entertainment on course)
It never happened though. I actually had to force myself to make up those fake freakouts just now. The only thing I really ever worried about race eve was deciding between the panini or tempeh salad* at Beer Stein for dinner. (to accompany the don’t-even-think-about-anything-else soft pretzel)
Spoiler: There were probably a few other things I should’ve at least considered for a hot second prior to gun time.
*Went with the salad, if you’re wondering.
The race was a little over an hour away in Blodgett, and Em’s 50K boasted an ass-crack’ing early 7am bus time. To say the rattling of pans and coffee brewing (my alarm clocks when lodging at Sweatspace) woke me earlier than I desired consciousness would be a tragic understatement. I laid on the couch for a while with my eyes half open, not moving, waiting for the coffeemaker to chime, signaling it was safe to come to life.
As soon as it did I rolled over and, half to myself, half to Emily, said (in a gravelly mumble), “I get to wear my new shoes today.”
“YEAH YOU DO.”
(continues laying on couch with covers pulled high, a tired, shitty grin slowly starting to creep on my face) “We get to play on some new trails today.” <—- still not quite excitable enough to warrant an !, but a major victory for non morning person OUaL.
“FUCK YEAH WE DO!”
We ate, coffeed, and dressed – which in yet another “Oregonian Sarah is completely not at all like SoCal or Ohio Sarah” plot twist, meant dumping 9 tops and 6 pairs of shorts onto the dark living room floor and picking the coveted race day outfit solely by what would match my Picky Bars hat best. Pockets? Chaffing? Possibility of being photographed in spandex? Fuck it all, who cares!
On the drive over I finally decided to address some of the lingering “unknowns” about the race. Here’s what I DID know:
- My longest training runs were 1:45, maaaybe 12ish miles (race is 15.5), and also has anyone seen my GPS watch? I clearly haven’t used it in the last few months.
- I’d never run a “real” trail race, and the use of words like “technical single track” “hazards” and “muahahaa, this is gonna hurt!” in pre-race correspondence from the RD had me thinking it wouldn’t be the same as the dirt path river loop in town I call “trail running.”
- My brand new Brooks Cascadias would probably, hopefully, perhaps not totally demolish my feet. If I was lucky.
If those small factors didn’t already have me concerned for my livelihood, the next few minutes did.
“So it’s technical, but only like 1000′ feet of change, right? I’ll probably be fine.”
“Where did you see 1,000 feet?”
“Oh I don’t remember, somewhere… 1,000 isn’t a lot, is it?”
“Sar, I’m pretty sure it’s more than that.”
After pulling up the course map the next 30 minutes were spent trying to convince myself that “2,500′ of gain and 3,000′ of loss” were practically tomato/tomahtoe to 1,000′ change. What’s the big diff, right?! RIGHT??
Luckily after a little while Emily distracted me with talks about aid stations.
“I’m SUPER PUMPED to stop and hang out at aid! What kind of snacks do you think they’ll have?! Man I’m just so stoked to not have to eat a fucking gel or worry about drinking while running. This is going to be the best. Do you think there’ll there be skittles??”
“… Did you not bring any fuel?”
“Oh well I have a Picky Bar I thought about carrying, but, no… Should I have? Will I need water, you think?”
*Emily makes sure her name and number are listed as ICE contact info on my bib*
So yeah, Oregonian Sarah has a few downfalls to work on.
“god speed, oual. you screwed yourself pretty good on this one.” – sweaty, who is hilariously almost taller than me in her stupid Hokas.
Shuttles for the 25K from Blodgett Elementary were 90 minutes after the 50K, so I had a solid amount of time to get ready (shed sweats, body glide everything), decide how to pin my number on (folded tiny, on left leg of shorts, because that’s how Em did it), and dick around on social media. Apologies to anyone that already saw the above photo 10x on every channel the internet offers.
We boarded the busses and I inadvertently did my best “seat’s taken” bitch face (thanks for the training, Southwest Air!) which produced a lovely solo seat free of any awkward pre-race small talk obligations. I stared longingly out the window watching the landscape go by, thinking how cool it was to get to explore a new place this way, and dreaming up the unknown adventures – good and bad – that lay ahead.
And also kind of wishing I had someone to talk to.
Mike the race director gave us a short briefing at the start, most of which was coated in inexcusable enthusiasm and genuine excitement over the course he’d built and the amount of times he was “going to make us hurt! <evil laugh that only endurance athletes can get away with before being accused of sadism>”
I heard him say the first 10k was pretty friendly, the middle was going to suck in the funnest way possible, and that “if you have anything left, the end is pretty gentle.” There would be two aid stations, and a neutral water stop (an unmanned table with jugs of water for refilling handhelds/hydration packs) right after the first gnarly section of climbing, around mile 7.
That turned out to be a helpful little tidbit to commit to the ol’ noggin.
Alright I’m actually not going to talk a lot about the actual race since this is almost 6 months post-factum. But, I’ll give you what I can. (For better or worse, a lot of it is pretty vividly burned in my memory.)
After Mike the RD finished his speech we lined up at the nondescript start line (a cone? chalk line? I don’t remember) and after a short countdown all 75 or so of us took off.
Where I immediately rolled my ankle on the first step of non-pavement. GOOD START, SARAH!
The first few miles were incredibly fun. Bounding over rocks and roots in a lush forest, somehow remaining upright after the early clumsiness, already dreaming about what delicious treats awaited at the aid stations. (If you haven’t heard about the differences between road and trail aid stations, picture candy instead of gels, salty chips instead of sodium tabs, and liquids you refill your handheld/pack with instead of throwing them all over your face trying to drink them while running.)
Without much room on the single track to pass even if I wanted, it was great to just settle in with the pack and play follow the leader. Not caring about anything other than soaking as much of the scenery as I could without face planting and causing a domino traffic jam. I had such a great time I totally forgot about the “second 10k is going to crush your soul” warning from RD’s pre-race speech.
I came into aid station 1 smiling and doing a weird jazz hand salutation thing at the volunteers. At some point I’d moved away from the pack I started with, and the volunteers told me a couple guys were less than a minute ahead “if I wanted to chase them down.” I kind of did, mostly just for footsteps to follow. Sarah’s on-the-run navigational skills haven’t been tested too intently and I was fearing getting lost way more than the miles ahead.
Which, again, was a nice distraction from the pain train waiting for me to board.
I’ve selectively amnesia’d a lot of the next miles. There was a section of trail called “Carl’s Adventure” that afterwards I told Mike the RD I wanted to have a talk with him and “Carl” about his “stupid Adventure” that almost marched me to my vert-dunce death.
But then also high-fived him and said “it was AWESOME.”
There was suffering. There was drinking out of a Hydroflask out of a park ranger’s truck that was parked along the side of the road at one point. Slightly sketchy. There was a dude sharing equal amounts of “kill me” and “ok fine let’s get this over with” that I ran/walked with the final mile. There was a charlie horse forcing me to hobble through the grass to the finish line. But ah, there WAS a finish line.
Then there was definitely some “what race is next?!” over lunch beers after.
Trails, I love you.
The minute I learned when the official day would be I circled it in my calendar, red marker with big capital letters – DIVORCE DAY – declaring it a sort of personal holiday. The kind of holiday that signifies a completion, and acknowledges new things to come.
The kind of holiday you throw a fucking party to celebrate.
But as the weeks neared, “House boat on Lake Shasta, 70:1 beer:person ratio!” whittled down to “Night out on the town in Bend!” and to “Afternoon backyard get together” before finally landing on “Just kidding there’s no party I’m going out in the woods to crew a 100 miler for a friend I barely know.”
I mostly blamed the deteriorating plans on laziness – the logistics of corralling people (what if no one can come, or I forget someone?) and fear of hosting (I still didn’t have chairs around my dining table) were easy scapegoats. But I think deep down I wanted to keep the “celebration” to myself. Making a spectacle over my newfound singledom, around people who’ve only known me in this stage of my life, felt disrespectful to the years Brian and I spent together. Our marriage wasn’t a sham or anything I wanted to throw away (although I did a lot of literal throwing away of things in the weeks leading up) and without anyone here who knew us in our good days, it just didn’t feel right to celebrate its ending at all.
I wrote the passage below the night I decided to cancel the “Divorce Day” party. It’s pretty hippieshit and personal, not something I’d typically share with many people, let alone blab all over the internet. And I know this is “supposed” to be a “running blog” (please do the hand gestures), but in the end I felt like it would be good to air out the thoughts and let them breathe, in case someone would relate somehow.
And even if not, it just feels good to get the words on paper (/screen.)
*we filed a Summary Dissolution which means instead of appearing in court you fill out some papers and then just wait six months and voila, divorce. it pays not having kids, lots of money, or things to fight over.
One of the things about our divorce that I’m most grateful for (other than skipping over the meat aisle at the grocery store and sleeping in the middle of the bed) is the opportunity for a fresh start. Combined with the move to Oregon, I started 2015 with as clean of a slate as you can possibly get. New town, new friends, new job… Squeaky fucking clean.
And while I was settling into all this new-ness, I realized for once I had complete, unbridled control over what stayed, and what got kicked to the curb. Sure, there’s the literal packing of things in a move, and the literal separation of belongings in a break up. But what about the other things in my life? The non-tangibles? My hobbies, habits, ideas – all the things that make me “me”? How many of them were intentionally developed, and how many either fell into my lap out of habit or laziness? How did I feel about bringing all of those things into this new phase of my life?
Am I really such an introvert I can’t make small talk with the person behind me at the grocery store, or is that a personality trait I’ve slowly acquired over the years?
Is it fun to pass on participating in things because I’m not super good at them just to protect my competitive ego?
Do I really hate olives, or did someone tell me they were gross and I never gave them a chance?
I’ve spent a lot of the past months thinking about these things – who I am, who I want to be, and how I see this new chapter playing out that is being written only by me. (That sounds depressing when you think of it as, “instead of co-writing with the person you said you’d be together with forever,” but ridiculously invigorating as, “you’ve got the pen, girl, write the motherfucking chapter(s) of your dreams!”)
What surprised me the most about this whole deeply intrinsic, uncharacteristically personal self-assessment was how much I think I’ve been wrong about my interpersonal relationships.
Being open, approachable, and welcoming do not come naturally to me. None of the folks who know me – from any stage in my life – would describe me as any of those things, I’m pretty damn certain. Plus, I have a severe case of Resting Bitch Face that I just don’t think there’s ever going to be a cure for.
But I realize that a lot of the walls that I had built up were there for silly reasons. To protect myself from some unknown something or another that I worried would hurt me. That exposing any part of me to people I hadn’t screened, put through a personality test, and checked their FICO score would make me foolishly vulnerable and soft. That if I relied on someone they’d let me down, or even worse, I’d let them down. I kept myself impermeable to any threat of hurt, and in doing so kept myself from fully experiencing the joy of moments and people surrounding me.
It still takes me a while to feel comfortable around someone, but I realized I kind of do like discussing thoughts, feelings, and ideas with people. Instead of squirming at the first mention of emotion and running for the hills when shit gets serious, it’s really liberating to let everything air out, both as the presenter and the audience, even if it’s uncomfortable as shit. Having those thoughts fester privately in my own brain (or pretending like they don’t exist) has never done anyone any favors, no matter how well I like to think I’ve managed it over the years.
So new chapter Sarah is making an effort to chip away at some of those protective walls, to see what happens when the drawbridge is lowered and the alligators are deported from the moat. Independent, closed-off Sarah is rolling over in her grave over it, but I think it could be good.
And if not, at least I can’t say I didn’t try. (ahem, olives.)
In closing (does that make this sound like I’m speaking to you from a podium?) I’m seeing this separation as a fresh start to so much more than just love. While I’m scrubbing such a big corner of my life clean, why not wipe down the rest of the walls too, right? Reflecting on why our relationship failed made me reflect on myself as a partner, friend, and human in general.
All of those things can always be improved.