29 May 2012

Medicine Bow Half Marathon, Wyoming

I do not know what I was thinking when I signed up for the Medicine Bow Half in Laramie, Wyoming this weekend. First of all, it was a bit of a drive – nothing like just hopping over to Denver. Second of all, I should’ve known by the elevation map for the course that I was way out of my league. But what I was focused on was the fact that I had a “free” weekend (I was originally scheduled to work but had it picked up) and I needed to color Wyoming in on my map. You see, Wyoming doesn’t have many half marathons. At least, not many that I’ve found. So when I found this race and heard of two other Half Fanatics coming in for it, I thought “what the hell” and registered. It met my two criteria: a finisher’s medal and a generous time limit. And the website stated that “all finishers are winners” - my kind of race.


I should’ve paid more attention to the elevation map. I really should’ve. It shows the race starting at 8700+ feet and then descending. I saw the little rises and falls in the map but didn’t put two and two together. I never imagined Wyoming to be mountainous. I know that part of the Grand Tetons fall in Wyoming. I know they’re part of the Rocky Mountain chain but I never actually put together that the state would be “hilly”. When I think of Wyoming, I think of prairies and flatness – and I’ve been to Wyoming before so I can’t even begin to explain where this assumption comes from. I have it firmly imbedded in my head now that Wyoming is full of elevation and gorgeous vistas. Like my own state, it has prairies and valleys and mountains and is actually quite pretty. However, I don’t understand the motto that greeted me when I entered Wyoming. The sign said, “Welcome to Wyoming. Forever West.” I’m wondering – has there been a rash of western states moving east? I don’t get it.

Anywho – I settled in to my hotel Saturday night in Laramie. I didn’t get into town in time to make the drive to Cheyenne for the pasta dinner so I just hunkered down at the hotel – had a nice dinner and got all my stuff ready for the next day. The weather was supposed to be chilly – 39 degrees with a 31 degree wind chill – so I was picking out my gear that would keep me warm until the sun came up. I’ve done cold starts before and knew that if I just kept from freezing, I’d be all right. This was the first race I’ve done where water bottles were required and the hydration stations would be further apart than I was used to so I made sure I had enough hydration and fuel. I don’t know why more races, especially the big races, don’t go cupless. It is nothing to attach a water clip to your belt to carry a bottle and it just makes sense. It sure was nice to not see the ground littered with bottles and trash.

Race morning arrives and I get all set and ready to go. The race start is about 10 miles east so I leave fairly early to make sure I have time to check in, attach my bib and do the last minute pre-race stuff like bathroom, nerves and stretching. When I walked out to my car to head out, it didn’t feel very cold. In fact, I was worried I was over-dressed. I even thought about running back upstairs to change into a lighter outfit. I argued with myself for about 5 minutes before I just stuck with what I was wearing and headed out. And boy was I glad I did. When I got to the start, the temperature had dropped and the wind had picked up. Of course, I didn’t think to consider the fact that I changed altitude from Laramie to the start so of course it would be a little cooler. But I was definitely not counting on the wind. Strong and cold, it was relentless in its race through the mountains.

Finally we all gather for the last minute instructions before the start. The race director said a nice prayer and asked us all to remember the service men and women and then we were off. I began my walk and kept to the side so I wouldn’t be in the way of the speed demons and found myself walking with a 71 year old man and his daughter. They were from Florida and are members of the 50 States Marathon club. They’ve done something like 21 states together and walk them all. With them, I kept a fairly decent pace. Granted, we were going downhill, but it was nice to have someone to talk to. The wind was too much that had I put in my iPod, I wouldn’t have heard it anyway so the conversation was perfect.

The first 4.5 miles were downhill. I was comfortable with the pace and wasn’t too concerned yet about how I’d do the rest of the course.

The next 2+ miles were uphill. Sometimes it was a gradual uphill with a small bit down and sometimes it was a dramatic uphill with no hope of ever seeing the end. It was here that I began to fall behind my walking companions from Florida. They continued on and I got slower and slower. A big mistake for me was assuming that because I live in a mountainous state and live at 5000 feet, I’d have no problem with an altitude increase. Well, I was having a problem with it and I had never done hills like the ones this course was on. Sure I’ve done a hill but it’s always had a crescent – something you can see relief from. These hills, well, there was no relief. They kept going up and up and up and up and up and up and, well, you get the picture. During the never-ending hill, my body was doing fine. My legs felt good, my feet felt good and I hadn’t experienced the swelling in my hands yet. The wind was pure torture and it felt like I was walking in to it the entire time but my body was doing fine. What wasn’t doing fine was my mind and my breathing. My mind would tell me that I was going to hurl or collapse or something dramatic and my breathing would get shallow and hard to draw. It was mental effort to not let my brain run away with my body because I was feeling fine, it was just a long-ass hill. So my brain and I are playing a mental game and my body finally brings me to the turn around. Yea! Relief. 2+ miles downhill. Woot Woot!

I don’t know when it hit me that I still had a long way to go and despite the fact that I was walking downhill now, I eventually had that uphill to conquer to get to the finish, but when I did I was just beside myself. I had no idea how I was going to finish. The wind was conspiring against me and the sun was in my face. Add to that all the little pebbles from the dirt trail were finding their way in to my shoes and I felt defeated. My body still felt fine, I was walking just fine with no aches and pains in my hips or ankles and my feet weren’t hurting but every little thing bothered me. The rocks in my shoes, the wind, the person at the aid station that said the last 4 miles were the hardest uphill she’s ever done, what-have-you. It all bothered me. It got to the point where I would take 10-15 steps and stop. 10-15 steps and stop. One foot after another, up the hill I went. Marathoners were passing me. Ultra-marathoners were passing me headed out on their second lap. And here I was, struggling to make the last 5k up a hill that would not end.

But the hill did eventually end and I did eventually finish. There was a small group of 3-5 people waiting for me, ringing their cowbells, clapping and telling me I did good – I finished! One person took my tear-tab off my bib to record my time, another handed me my medal and another patted me on the back. I heaved my way to the step of the RV that was serving as race HQ and sat for a few minutes. I was done. I finished. I must admit that I don’t think I finished because of my determination. I finished because there was no SAG wagon to pick up my lazy butt when I wanted to quit at mile 8. I was tempted to ask one of them to give me a ride in their ATV back to my car – ‘cause of course the path to my car was uphill – but I refrained. With dignity I hauled myself up and slowly, ever so slowly, made it to my car. I drove to the rest area. I was done with walking for the day.

This race course is challenging. Finishing a course with a 4 mile uphill requires training. Or it requires sheer idiocy. I fall into the second category. There were no porta-pots on the course and I think that worked against me as I probably did not drink enough of my hydration (I was worried about having to answer the call of nature IN nature). There was decent course support with aid stations every 4.5 miles or so (for the full, just the one at mile 4.5 for the half marathoners) and the scenery was absolutely beautiful. I will tell you; this race taught me that I better pay more attention to the elevation map! It also taught me that my inner battle still rages and it is amazing the control it has over me. I colored Wyoming in on my map – black – because it tried to kill me. State #10 down, only 40 to go!



24 May 2012

Brownie

In 2000, I moved my kids and me from our home in Woodbridge, Virginia to my home town of Grand Junction, CO. I quit a good paying job at the American Red Cross Tissue Services in Washington, DC to move to a small town to go to school. I wanted more for my life; more for my kids and home just seemed like the place to be. It was a hard move for the kids – everything they knew at that point was in Virginia – friends, school, and normality – and I ripped them from it, knowing they would find new friends, a new school and a new normal. Ali and Josh, on the other hand, were not quite so sure. My daughter insisted that I was ruining her life and my son was convinced that nothing would be home like Virginia. The transition, to say the least, was rocky.

In September of 2000, I decided it was time we had a dog. I told myself that it was for The Boy (as I affectionately call Josh) because there’s just something about a Boy and his Dog that makes everything right but little did I know the dog that would choose us came because we all needed her. We all needed the unconditional, forgiving love that only a dog could give. So while the kids were in school one September afternoon, I went to Roice-Hurst Humane Society to find this dog. Originally I wanted to see if I could find a poodle. I had the best poodle ever while growing up (Louis, or Louie) and I was convinced that if I, a self-proclaimed non-dog person, were to get a dog, only a poodle would do. They had no poodles at the Humane Society. They had medium-sized dogs, and huge-ass dogs and little yippy dogs (I affectionately call “fake dogs”) but no poodles. I was just about to turn around to leave when, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a medium-sized dog sitting quietly in her kennel. I could tell she was observant and intelligent but she wasn’t in-your-face giddy to be introduced to anyone. She stayed in the kennel, watching, taking it all in, but not getting her hopes up. I asked a volunteer if they could tell me anything about her and I learned that she was a Border Collie mix, had been physically abused and then abandoned and her name was Brownie. I asked if I could walk her and was given a leash and a direction to walk. So we went on a walk, this shy dog and I, and from that point on she became a part of my life.

I took Brownie home and introduced her to the kids when they got off of school. I told them that Brownie was a member of our family but had been through so much in her short 2 years of life that it might take some time for her to get used to us, to recognize us as her pack and to know that we wouldn’t abuse her or leave her. I told them that technically Brownie was Josh’s dog but we all had a responsibility to her – to love her, play with her and want her. They would take her to the park and fight over who got to hold her leash. They would fight over who got to feed her, who got to put water in her dish and who got to name her (I decided we would keep the name given to her at the shelter). The one thing they never fought about, though, was playing with her, loving her and being happy to see her. It took some time but eventually Brownie began to trust us. One day we heard her barking when we were leaving the house – she hadn’t barked at all up to that point – I thought her barker was broken. And then one day, about 2 years later, she wagged her tail at us. And from that point on, her tail was always wagging.

Brownie never really got over her past. She bolted through doors like we were going to slam the door on her. She would hide when voices were raised in argument (when the kids were younger, she was hiding a lot as they fought. A lot.). She was never easy around men and she never learned how to play fetch or catch or any of the other games Border Collies loved to do. But she would herd my children when they were at the park, keeping them in a well-defined, Brownie determined safe area and she loved to spend any and all time with us. If we were in one part of the house, Brownie was too. If we moved to another part of the house, Brownie did too. Eventually she grew to accept my Dad as an extension of her pack and she was always excited to “go to Grandpa and Grandma’s” to see them and their dogs. Every time we came home, she greeted us enthusiastically. She listened to my ramblings. She listened to the kids. And she never judged, never withheld any of her love for us. She loved the feline members of our family and took great pleasure in the game, “Get the Cat!” but she never snapped at them, never growled, never responded to their butt in her face with anything stronger than a look to me that said, “Mom – could you please get this cat butt out of my face?” Brownie was a perfect fit for our family.

This past weekend I had to put Brownie down. Age had run its course with her and tumors were invading her body. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do and I was an emotional wreck for the rest of the weekend. In fact, I’m still a wreck but each day is getting a little easier. The void she left is amazingly large.

Things I Learned From Brownie

1. Trust is hard but rewarding.
2. Wag your tail when you’re happy – you get petted.
3. Simple things are best – a warm bed, a treat, a walk.
4. Never forget who your pack is.
5. Second chances are imperative. Everyone deserves a second chance.

And I am sure there are more that I will add to this list. I just can’t right now. I loved that stupid dog.


When it comes time to get your life-long friend, please check out your local humane society.  Everyone deserves a second chance.  Roice-Hurst Humane Society in Grand Junction can be found at 362 28 Road, Grand Junction, CO.  They are a no-kill facility and would appreciate your time, money and adoption!

15 May 2012

Grand Valley Half Marathon - May 12, 2012

I absolutely adore Saturday races. Maybe it’s because races feel like they should be on a Saturday or maybe it’s because I still have some weekend left to celebrate the race and recover. Whatever the reason, I feel like I am more relaxed and have more fun with them.

I have done this race once before and enjoyed it. Mammoth Marathons does a good job putting on an event. There is always plenty of race support, plenty of food (even for me, the back-of-the-packer), a nice medal and shirt and a decent entry fee. With my Half Marathon Club discount and an early entry, my race cost me $35.00. Having spent $125 on a Rock-n-Roll race, $35.00 was a steal. Small races are nice, too. You never have to worry about parking, getting stepped on, spending hours looking for your corral or hoping there is still hydration left at an aid station. You can arrive 15 minutes before the race, park, stretch, get a cup of coffee or water and wander to the start line with plenty of time to spare. The Grand Valley Marathon was no exception. This event included 5K, 10K, Half Marathon and Marathon distances with staggered starts for the individual events – enough time for the crowd of the previous event to be out of the way of the next event – a concept that is physically impossible for an event with 20,000+ participants.

My friend, Tami, signed up to do the 10k event and I was signed up for the Half. Because it was a small race and because it had a 6 hour time limit, I began to develop a plan to have Tami do her first half. When we picked up our packets Friday evening, I changed her registration to the Half. I figured I could just ask her to walk with me a “little bit more” until it was too late for her to turn around. I was so excited about my evil plot that I had a hard time keeping the secret.
We got to the start area at about 0615 on Saturday morning. The full was to start at 0630, the half at 0700 and the 10k at 0730 (5k at 0745). Knowing that I was going to “encourage” Tami to do her first half, I suggested we start early to “beat the heat”. Even though her event was to start 30 minutes after mine, we decided she would start with me and walk with me to the 10k turn-around (all events shared the same course). So after the marathoners headed out on the course, we set our trackers and began our race.

This out and back course begins in the heart of Palisade and heads out of town, following the Colorado river for a bit before turning onto Highway 6’s Scenic By-Way through the heart of the Grand Valley’s Fruit Orchards and Vineyards. It is not an easy course. It ascends and descends gradually throughout the course and at Mile 4 you get a rude awakening – “Throw Up Hill”. At mile 4 you find yourself staring up at the hill wondering why in the world you even bothered to get up that morning. The hill at mile 4 ascends 195 feet and it is not gradual. Tami and I drove the course the night prior because I wanted to see if the hill was as bad as I remembered it being. It was. And Tami even said to me, “There is no way I’m doing that hill with you tomorrow.” It was like she read my mind. But I just said to myself, “Hmm. We’ll see.” In any case, I digress.

We started off at a gentle pace heading out of town. I knew I was going to be asking a great deal of Tami so I didn’t want to have her feeling exhausted before she even hit the 10k turn around. So we worked on a 19 minute mile pace and chatted while enjoying the scenery. Before we knew it, the 10k turn around was upon us. I then asked her to keep walking with me, just a little bit, she could turn around any time she wanted. She said she wasn’t doing that hill. I said ok, let’s wait and see. She said there was no sense in doing the hill if she wasn’t going to get the medal for it. I then told her that she was, in fact, registered for the half and she might as well do it ‘cause we had 6 hours any way. Before we knew it, we were at the base of the hill. The hill is a killer. I kept rambling on, trying to get her mind off of it, and she was not happy with me as we climbed up. We reached the top and I turned around and looked down. The view was amazing.
We walked to the aid station, filled up our water bottles, used the port-a-john, got a banana and continued on our way. It was at the aid station we learned that the local high school cross country track team calls the hill “Throw Up Hill”. Now we came into the really pretty part of the course. US Highway 6 goes through local vineyards and fruit orchards and the view is amazing. We hit this part of the course probably about 0900 – and the sun was just playing with the lush green fields, sparkling off the dew on the leaves, highlighting the sandstone in the mountains and generally just making you feel glad to be alive.
We kept an average 19 minute mile pace, slowing down a little bit going up the hill and then the long gradual incline back over the hill and back into town. By mile 9 I had hit my wall and I was really ready to be done. My hips hurt, my feet hurt, my knee began to hurt and it was starting to get hot. Tami mentioned that she hit her wall a couple of times – at the 10k mark and then again at the 9 mile marker. By the time we hit the gradual climb that seemed to go on and on and on leading up to the hill, it was warm and the sun was no longer playing on the vineyards or teasing us through the mountains. Now it was an evil fiend, sucking the life out of me. But this course had no SAG wagon. The person I usually call when I get to that point in a race was suffering right along with me and there was so little traffic, I doubt we could’ve hitched our way back in to town. So we kept plodding along - one upping one another in aches and pains and talking about food. For some reason I was really hungry during this event. Maybe because I had more time to think about food or maybe because I actually ate breakfast (a first for me). Whatever the case, I was fixated on food. And it got me through.

Finally we come up on the “1 More Mile” marker and I get excited. We’re going to finish and we’re going to eat! I picked up our pace a little and before we knew it, we were crossing the finish line, getting our medals and searching for some place to sit in the shade and just revel in Tami’s accomplishment. Tami crossed that finish line and completed her first half marathon. She told me then that there was no way she was going to do the Slacker Half Marathon in Georgetown, CO with me – she was done. But that was Saturday. Today we made plans for the Slacker Half and she even mentioned it without me asking…

Mammoth Marathons does a good job. With the exception of being handed the medal still in the little baggie and no photographer on the course (well, there was one, but he stuck with the fast people), I have no suggestions for improvement on this course. If it continues to grow, they might actually have to block off the road for a while (the hill had no shoulder on which to walk which meant we were in the road and there were quite a few blind spots going around corners) and that would mean a more strict time limit but for now it is a small-town race with small-town charm. And it was Tami’s very first half marathon.

Is it a coincidence that Tami’s time for her first half was the same as my time for my first half? We walked across the finish line 4 hours and 25 minutes after we started.