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!

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