Sunday, July 27, 2014

Towers

For the second time in the two months since we’ve lived here, I was in the newspaper again (the first time it was about bikes).  The more recent article was about Towers Trail— a famous, or infamous, run up the mountains in Soderberg Open Space.

Rob first told me about Towers shortly after we arrived in Fort Collins and he began running with the group there on Thursdays.  They do a sort of time trial, where everybody aims to arrive at the top at 6:50pm, so you need to estimate your departure from the trailhead based on how long you think it will take you to ascend.  At first I thought Towers was one of those impossibly narrow, rocky, unrunnable trails that Rob runs all the time, but he told me it was actually a wide old logging road (or fire road), and he said that even though it was very steep, he thought I could do it.

One weekend in early June, I decided to take the time to venture out to Soderberg (while Rob was watching Will) and attempt Towers as the final leg of a 17-mile training run.

Rob had warned me that even though the trail was only 3.4 miles long, it involved 1,700 feet of “vert,” and it might take me an hour or more to get to the top.  I wasn’t worried about time, I just wanted to see if I could do it.  I took it easy.  I walked a lot.  I stopped to take pictures.  

 

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Parts of the trail were so insanely steep (~20% grade) that all I could do was laugh.  It was hard to even walk up a grade that steep.  I felt like I needed trekking poles.  I felt like with every step forward, I slid 3 feet back.  I wondered if I would actually be able to make it to the top.  I wondered how on earth I was going to make it back down once I did (sliding on my rear end all the way?).  I probably would have stopped, but I didn’t want to have to go home and live with the knowledge that I'd tried to do Towers but couldn’t finish.

I was dizzy and lightheaded.  At one point I thought I might have seen a bear, but it turned out just to be a dark tree stump.  About halfway through, I looked up and saw some towers, and I realized that was where I was headed.  It was so far up into the sky.  It was not humanly possible.  I walked more and more, ran only when I could.

IMG 3658  Towers.

I finally made it to the top.  Victorious.  Then came the descent back down, which was terrifying in places, fantastic in others.  I am horrible at downhills.  I know, it makes no sense.  Everybody else loves them.  I hate them.  I hate them even more when they are narrow and rocky and have deep ravines on either side, but that is not the case with Towers.  The trail is smooth and wide.  That's its saving grace for me.  

By the time I finished the run, I was completely hooked.  It had been so hard that it felt kind of like a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I totally didn’t understand how people like Rob could do every single week.  But I wanted to.  I couldn’t wait until my legs stopped shaking so that maybe someday I could try it again.

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A few weeks later, I had a chance to head back out to Soderberg and attempt Towers for the second time.  This was also part of a long run—15 miles—but the thing is, it didn’t seem quite as bad.  I knew what to expect, which in some ways made it more terrifying, but I also knew I had done it before, and that meant I could likely do it again.  I told myself not to look up at the towers (so close, yet so far away), but I did anyway.  And I made it to the top.

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I did so horribly on the descent that I resolved never to do the group run.  I would get laughed off the mountain.  I would finish tens of minutes behind everyone else.  I sucked.

And yet.  Rob convinced me to give it try at the group run the following Thursday.  His parents were visiting us, so it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to go to the time trial with Rob while Will was being looked after.  I was very nervous about it (as in, I had trouble sleeping the night before), but I mainly dealt with it by acting nonchalant.

It turned out to be the most fun I’d ever had, ever.  Rob and I got the chance to run together (just as we warmed up, not during the climb—he’s way too fast) for the first time in something like 10 months.  That was nice.

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Before the actual time trial started, I stood there just casually chatting with Nick Clark.  The Nick Clark.  He asked me about my upcoming trip to Nicaragua (recall, he won FYA in 2012).  I wondered how on earth this has become my life.

I started the ascent with some new friends, but I felt freakishly strong and ended pushing forward a bit, not needing to walk as much as they did.  It was strange, how easy it felt.  I passed people who had started before me, and I wasn’t even breathing heavily.  I completely forgot to look at my watch when I got to the top, but I finished well ahead of the 50 minutes I had allowed myself.

Once everybody arrived, we paused for a group photo.

Then it was time for the dreaded descent. Rob had promised to run with me, bless his heart, so that I wouldn't be all alone. I ended up able to stay with a few other runners at the back of the pack, and I could tell I was definitely ran faster than the previous two times I'd done it. Maybe I finally trusted my feet not to slip out from underneath me (although I slid twice, I never actually fell). I was still very cautious on the super steep grades, but in the areas where it was more manageable, I let myself fly a little. It showed me that I at least have the potential to improve somewhat, and that's all it took to light a spark.

After the run, we got interviewed by the reporter (who had run the time trial himself, awesome), and just like that, I'm in the newspaper for the second time in two months.

Descent

"Melissa Raguet-Schofield of Fort Collins said the downhill is harder on her body than the ascent.”  (Ain’t that the truth).  

It’s been a relatively short time, I suppose, since I went from thinking of Towers as something I would never do, to something I would do only once in my life, to something I want to do every single freaking day. I love that run so much. It's beautiful, it's excruciating. I went back out last Sunday and did it again, this time as the first leg of a long run. I remembered to look at my watch this time, and to take in the view at the top.

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IMG 3565 I had a nosebleed at the top.  Altitude?  That’s never happened before.

My uphill splits were all slower than the ones from Thursday's run (meaning I made it up there faster than 47 minutes during the time trial), but my downhill splits were actually a little faster. I couldn't believe it. Maybe, just maybe, there's hope for me yet.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

How my life became like that Seinfeld episode where George pretends to be a marine biologist

It started out of the blue, with just a simple “Welcome to Colorado” message from my dissertation advisor, who had heard that we’d moved here.  Then there was a chain of emails, a family trip to his cabin in the mountains, and now all of a sudden, I’m about to leave for Nicaragua to collect data for a project he and some colleagues have been working on the last several years.

It’s a pretty good deal for everybody, right?  I get a trip back to Nicaragua, they get somebody who knows the area, who knows where to find the monkeys, and who can (comparatively easily) collect the necessary data to continue their study on wild primate health in different forest types.

Win-win.

Except I feel, for all the world, like that Seinfeld episode where George pretends to be a marine biologist.  Remember the one?  He is walking along the beach with his date, who is impressed by his supposedly successful career, and then they come upon the unthinkable— a beached whale.  Someone in the crowd yells out, “Is anyone here a marine biologist?”  George, unable to give up the ruse, wades into the ocean.

Of course, I actually was a primate behavioral ecologist in my previous life (i.e., about 5 years ago), I did my year-long dissertation research at the exact field site I’m returning to (spending over 1,300 hours following around these monkeys), and for crying out loud, I have a PhD in this stuff.  If anyone can find the monkeys and collect the data, it should be me, right?  

But that doesn’t stop my anxiety, or rather, abject fear, about whether or not I can do it.

We decided that the whole family would go along, to provide emotional and logistic support as necessary.  And also, I am just outright unwilling to leave my son for the ~11 days this trip will take.  Or even one day, for that matter (I’ve only been away from him overnight one time, and it was horrifying).  Besides.  If I were gone, Rob would have to take time off work anyway because we don’t have any other childcare.  And as long as he’s taking vacation time, I figured, he might as well go on an actual, sort of, vacation.

We leave a week from today, and I am feeling completely overwhelmed by everything I have to take care of in the meantime.  As in, I’m kind of paralyzed and catatonic and don’t even know where to begin.  In terms of the project, everything seems squared away— I’ve got the supplies I need, I’ve gone over the protocol with the principal investigators, I have the proper permits to conduct the research, and I know (roughly) the locations in the forest where I need to collect samples (i.e., feces… no monkeys will be harmed in any way for this project).  But otherwise, I am kind of a wreck.  I need to somehow figure out a way to clear my mind so I can at least make a list of what I need to pack.

Bugspray, field clothes, sunscreen.  Any kind of medication we could need (Tylenol, Benedryl?), stuff to put on bug bites.  Snacks.  What am I going to take out to the forest to eat while I am out searching for monkeys?  It could take all day.  I wasn’t vegan when I did my dissertation research, and I used to take out sandwiches, but now that isn’t an option because they make the bread with butter.  Can I take enough Clif Bars to get me through the trip?  What if Will refuses to eat anything while we are there?  He’s been to Nicaragua twice (very minimal eating both times), but this time we’ll be there longer.

I need hiking boots.  I was going to just take my New Balance WT 1010v2’s (trail running has made me pretty confident that I can hack around in the forest in these shoes), but as of last weekend, they now have a big, gaping hole in the toe box.  Great.  It’s the rainy season.  I’m probably just going to take these shoes anyway (too late to order a new pair, and besides, the expense), so I’m steeling myself for the prospect of walking around with wet, muddy feet for 11 days.

And speaking of running.  About the time that this whole trip came about, I had just signed up for the Bear Chase 50 Miler at the end of September.  Now I’m faced with the prospect of basically taking ~2 weeks off during what should be prime training days.  I realize, theoretically, there is nothing stopping me from running while on Ometepe.  But the project takes priority.  I’ll be getting up before dawn, trying to find the monkeys at first howl, and out with them all day, just waiting for them to poop.  Maybe I could get all this done and run in the afternoons (evenings would not be feasible, it gets dark by 6pm), but that would still entail getting chased by dogs and adolescent boys, which is why I pretty much didn’t run the entire year I lived there.  Oh well.  Hopefully traipsing around the jungle during the days will keep me conditioned, and I can jump back into big mileage once I get back home.

But back to the real, actual, project.  

I feel like in many ways, this is combining ultra trail running and science.  It’s exciting.  Two things I can sort of do, and I get to put them to use.  But there is the overwhelming fear that I might not find the monkeys, that I might not get the samples my collaborators need, that it might be a huge waste of everyone’s time and money.  Having help out in the forest will be critical for this to be successful, I think, but that is something I cannot really arrange ahead of time.  I sent some inquiries to see if Simeon would be able to come out with me and help me tunnel through the jungle, but I haven’t heard anything back.  There’s also Eduardo, of course.  We were texting last night, and he said he could help me find monkeys.  That’s great.  But in reality, he is back in school (yay), in a village that is an hour and a half away from the place where I need to collect samples.  Hm.  Maybe not so feasible.

This is really the kind of thing Rob would excel at—speeding up rocky terrain where there are no trails, navigating by the sound of the monkeys’ vocalizations, not getting lost on the way back down.  You know, ultra running meets science.  We’d be quite a team.  But Rob will probably have to be back at the field station, trying to get some work done and looking after Will.  We’ll see.  They have a kindergarden and preschool in the village, plus I know people who would look after Will for a while, but I’m not sure he would be comfortable with that.  He was very shy and scared the last time we were in Nicaragua (when he was 3), and he still refers to that time I left him with Reina, a strange lady he didn’t know and who spoke only Spanish.  

I keep trying to minimize the panic by remembering something Cousin Don told me before I ran my first ultra: “Nothin’ to fear. It’s only runnin’.”  The same applies in this scenario too, even though it’s not exactly running.  Nothing to fear, it’s only going out into the forest.  It’s only being calm and quiet and patient, waiting and watching for the monkeys.  I’ll find them eventually.  It is what I spent a year of my life doing, while I was collecting my dissertation data.  Of all the things in the world, it might be the one thing I am actually capable of accomplishing.

And that’s why I can’t turn down this opportunity, even though it is stressing me out to such an extent that I feel like vinegar is running through my veins instead of blood.  I’m Melissa.  I’m badass.  I can do this.

Thanks for reading.

 

 

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Dear William (59 months)

Dear William,

Today you are 59 months old!

This month has been an absolute whirlwind.

We started it out by getting our picture in the newspaper for biking to a movie about bikes.

IMG 3404 You’re famous!


Shortly thereafter, we took a trip to Leadville, where Daddy ran a trail marathon.  You hung in there, really tough, and I want to tell you how much I appreciate that.  It was a hard day.  We had to get up very early, and then you had to stay calm while mommy drove around and tried to find a place to park at one of the aid stations.  The only place we could find was far away, so we had to walk up a mountain (at something like 11,000 feet elevation) and wait in the cold, thin, sunny air until Daddy got there.

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You got really tired.  We ended up having to make several trips up and down the mountain to go back to the car for stuff I thought Daddy might need (although it turned out he didn’t need any of it).

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Daddy did really well in his marathon.  The next day was Father’s Day, and Daddy wanted to spend it by driving 8 hours in the mountains.  I got carsick after the first 4.5, but you were good the whole time.  You played in the snow, in June, near the Continental Divide.  You were thrilled.

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Independance Pass

Independance Pass

You also started swim lessons during your 59th month.  These were a resounding success.  If you recall, we tried this a year ago when we lived in St. Louis, and much of the time you refused to even get into the pool.  But here, you loved it.  You were so adorable about it too.  Every morning you would get up and ask me if it was a swim day, and I would say, “Yes,” and you would jump for joy and say, “Yay!!"

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During the past 4 weeks, you have completed 2 swim sessions at EPIC: Preschool 1 and Preschool 2.  You got report cards for each.

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When you weren’t in swim class, you spent some time in your own backyard pool.

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And in your swimsuit, running through the sprinkler.

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You still enjoy a good costume.

IMG 3467 Thank goodness I hung onto your Wonder Woman costume, because one day you asked to wear it while eating a PBJ for lunch.

IMG 3511 It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s Ninja Superman.

Sometimes you like to wear a costume even while cheering for your mother as she runs her 13th marathon.

Mile 12

You got to play at a playground in Estes Park while you waited for me to get to the finish line.

Super playground

And you had a good time hanging out with Daddy.

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When you weren’t busy watching Mama and Daddy run races, you did some track workouts yourself, at the middle school near our house.

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Both on foot, aaaaand on bike.

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Batbike

Sometimes you played indoors, too.

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IMG 3527 “I don’t want to go to kindergarden. I’m afraid I won’t have as much Lego play-time.”

For 4th of July, we rode our bikes to Old Town for the parade.

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We rode to City Park in the evening and watched the Fireworks.  All of us were so happy.  I think it was the first time you’ve ever been to fireworks.  When you were littler, it was just too hard to try to fight traffic and take you some mosquito-ridden place so late at night.  But now that we’re in Fort Collins, everything’s easy.  We pulled our bikes onto the lawn about 20 minutes before the show began, spread out our blanket on the grass, and lay down to look at the stars.  Once the fireworks started, you were so excited.  Your face lit up brighter than the sky.  I couldn’t even really watch the fireworks, because I kept watching you.  As much as you enjoyed it, though, you fell asleep right before the grand finale.  You poor, tired, dear.  Oh well, there’s always next year!

We finished out the month with yet another trip, where we visited my dissertation advisor at his cabin in the mountains.  (Remember him? He held you when you were a baby).  We all hiked together.  When you got tired (it was at 9000 ft), Daddy put you on his shoulders.  It was a beautiful day.

The Boy

Will, if you ask me, I’d have to say that 4, almost 5, is the very best age.  It is the best of all possible worlds.  You are in some ways fiercely independent, but you also are still so sweet and innocent and need your mama so much.  You are the most generous, kind, patient, loving, and brave little person who ever walked this earth.  You will stop what you are doing and run over to me and say, “Mama, I’m going to keep you,” or “Mama, I love you forever and ever.”  

You have the most amazing imagination.  I hope you always hang onto that.  Just the other day, you were telling me that when you grow up, you would like to have a girlfriend who is your same size.  She will have black hair and her name will be Estie.  All of us will live together in our same house.  I will make you lunch, and then you and Estie will clean up the kitchen.  I would like that, William.  I would like that very much.

Love always, 

Mama

 

Today would have been your great grandpa George’s 100th birthday.

GrandpaG

Thursday, July 10, 2014

You're Vegan, What Do You Eat? (My Dissertation Advisor's Wife's Salad Dressing)

About 9 or 10 years ago, SL (my dissertation advisor) told me about this place his family had in Colorado.  He and his wife and kids would go out there every summer; the cabin was in the mountains and had lots of amazing wildlife and hiking.  He said that Rob and I should come out with them sometime.  It was beautiful, and we would love it.  Then he limped up the stairway of the Anthropology building (he had a bad knee during those days), and I didn’t think much of it.  I certainly didn’t think I would ever go to that cabin.

SL and I haven’t talked for about 4 years, and both of us have moved to different places since I finished my PhD.  But he got wind that I was living in Colorado now and dropped me a line.  An invitation to the cabin again.  We’d have a cookout with some other Illinois folks who had somehow made it out this way (all roads lead to Colorado?) and do some hiking around the property.

So we went.  It was last weekend, and surprisingly, it was really not even all that awkward to see my dissertation advisor again after such a long time, and particularly, after my life had fallen apart.

SL was right, the cabin and the mountains were beautiful.  So beautiful, in fact, that I couldn’t even stop looking at them long enough to take any pictures.  

This is pretty much what it looked like:

Hills are alive

 

We went on a hike and saw elk and hummingbirds; we identified deer and coyote scat.  We didn’t see any bears, but SL and his wife assured us they were there and frequent (uninvited) guests at the cabin (as evidenced by claw marks on the walls of the house).  

This was real Colorado.

We went back to the house for a cookout and some of the Fort Collins beer I had brought with us.  I had also brought plenty of vegan food to share, but it turned out we really didn’t even need it.  There was lots of stuff for us to eat.  SL’s wife had made this fantastic arugula salad, which is—at long last—the point of this post.  The salad had a really delicious, tangy dressing, and I asked her how she made it.  It went something like this:

Olive oil, balsamic vinegar, rice vinegar, chopped garlic, and salt.

I came home and recreated it the next day.  

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Perfect on a hot day, when you just want something fresh and satisfying and don’t want to heat up the kitchen by making something hot.  In my own version, I used a salad mix of spinach and baby kale because I didn’t have any arugula.  The kale is noteworthy here because recently, I’ve swung back to the “hate” side of my love/hate relationship with kale.  Recall, I was unable to eat kale for about 5 years as a result of my hyperemetic aversion to it.  I thought I had finally conquered that whole thing earlier this spring, when at long last I found myself able to eat marinated kale salad again and loving it. But alas.  Kale salad was the last thing I ate before my 5 Day Migrane, during which there was All The Vomit.  I’ve been off kale ever since.  

This salad was my first brave attempt to eat raw kale again, and it went okay.  SL’s wife’s salad dressing definitely helped make it more palatable, but I’m going to remain pretty cautious around kale for, oh, say, another half a decade or so.  The salad dressing is amazing though.  Maybe tomorrow I’ll have it again, this time just on spinach.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

June 2014 Mileage: Everything's easy

Everything’s easy— Girlyman

154.83 miles in June.  That’s kind of small potatoes but is the highest mileage I’ve run all year.  Maybe this stress fracture/tendon injury is finally behind me.  It’s taken 6 months, but suddenly, everything’s easy.

The month started out with a 21-mile run about half on pavement through the city and then swooping back west again to finish it off on the rocky trails of the foothills.  Blue sky all the way.

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Completing that run with my ankle/calf still intact gave me the confidence to sign up for the Estes Park Marathon later in the month.  A traditional marathon training plan would have had me start tapering after the the 21 miler, but considering that I had never really trained in the first place, tapering seemed uncalled for.  Besides.  I’ll taper when I’m old.

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Rob suggested that I run some of the Blue Sky Trail the next weekend.  I did and it was amazing.  Except for the rocks, the meeting of mountain bikers coming around blind corners, and the hikers/other runners who brought their giant dogs to the trail.

IMG 3373 This. This is why Simeon used the word “colorado” when he was talking about things that were red.

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It was a rare cloudy day in Colorado.

I took a connector trail (the Inlet Bay Trail) from Blue Sky over to Soderberg Open Space.  That was amazing too, except for the parts of the trail that were flooded, and the parts of it that literally went through a campground (where everybody and their dog had a dog that chased me as I ran past).  Once I got to Soderberg, I ran Towers Trail, which I loved because it was an old logging road (i.e., wide), and it was so hard that not many other people (or their dogs) were on it.

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It was hard. There were times when all I could do was laugh at how steep it was.

I did a lot more running around Dixon Reservoir during the week.

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Plus some light biking around town with the family:

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Then we took a trip to Leadville, where Rob ran the Leadville Trail Marathon.  The next morning, I got up early and ran the Mineral Belt Trail, about 12 miles round trip from our hotel.  I loved it.  The trail was paved asphalt, and even though the highest point was 10,600 ft, I ran a lot faster on it than I do on the rocky trails here in Fort Collins.  So its not elevation or hills that slow me down, it’s terrain.  And dogs.  And constantly moving out of the way for other foot/pedal traffic.

IMG 3441Leadville shimmers below, at 10,200ft

Mineral belt

IMG 3443 I actually started to feel a bit creeped out running past the old mines, completely alone. But it was beautiful and I was fine.

IMG 3445 So much of the trail was climbing up, up, up. It was an amazing feeling to round the corner and begin the descent back into town.

IMG 3446 This house is a little bit of a fixer-upper.

I tapered for about 6 days, and then it was time for the marathon, which went off without a hitch.

IMG 3476 Everything’s easy.

On our way home from Estes Park, I began wondering what on earth was next for me.  I mean, a road marathon was an interesting experience for me after a couple of years of trying to run on more trails and longer distances.  But I was feeling the call of the ultra again, and feeling it bad. 

I rested for a couple days, and my legs felt surprisingly back to normal.  William, of his own volition, suggested that we go run around the track at a nearby middle school.

IMG 3498 The tape is just preventative.

It didn’t take long, and I set my sights on the Bear Chase Trail race in late September.  I was so intrigued by the possibility of this event that we took a family drive out to Lakewood to do some trail reconnaissance.

The way it played out was possibly the most Ragfield thing that the Ragfields have ever done.  

I wanted to see if I could run the trail (which was described on the race website as "not overly technical"), but when we got to the park it was a labyrinth of trails and I had no idea where to go. So Rob struck out with some biodegradable flagging tape (leftover from my dissertation research) looped through his Anton Krupicka vest, and a sort of hand-drawn course map.

Will and I hung out at the playground for a couple hours until Rob finished running and marking the 12.5 mile loop. Then I took off, following his biodegradable markers and picking them up as I went. It was kind of like an awesome scavenger hunt.

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Unfortunately, it wasn't always that easy. I missed a turn a couple miles in (maybe I didn't see the marker?), and didn't realize it for a long, long time.

I was never, like, really lost. I mean, I could see the mountains, so at least I knew what direction I was going. But there were a few frantic phone calls to Rob wherein I described my location and tried to figure out how to get back on course. Which I did, eventually, with a lot of his help and patience.

My final determination of the course was that it was pretty good. No, not overly technical. But yes, rocky in places. This could be a problem in an ultra. I wasn't as worried about the mountain climb and the 3 knee-deep (and very rapidly rushing) streams to cross, all of which I'd have to do 4 times (it is a 4-loop course). I am more nervous about tripping on rocks as I get tired, and getting burnt to a crisp in the very long, very exposed sections. And causing a traffic jam on the single track because I am slow and people want to pass me, but there is not a safe place for me to step aside and let them around.

IMG 3507One of the less scenic views on the course: Little boxes, on the hillside, little boxes made of ticky tacky.

But whatever.  I'm doing it. I registered for the Bear Creek Lake 50 Mile Trail Race on September 27. I'm scared out of my mind (recall what happened the last time I ran 50 miles), but I'm all in.

154.83 miles in June. 613.22 year to date. The first half of 2014 has not been easy, but I'm still on my feet, I'm still moving, and things are starting to head in the right direction. Grateful for every step.

June Miles