On the way home from my Mammoth Road Trip I stopped in Lone Pine to run the Wild Wild West Marathon. Rather, since I’m nowhere near marathon shape at the moment, I was planning to run the 10-mile option. This is a trail race with Marathon, 50K and 10-mile courses.
I checked in at the local school on Friday night to pick up my race bag and enjoy the pasta dinner. Held in the school gym, it had a wonderfully grassroots feel. Something like 100 runners in the whole event. I love these home-spun races that are truly about the joy of running.
Here’s how the race day went for me:
4:45 AM—Woke up feeling great. After a quick breakfast, I headed the 6 miles up to the campground that was hosting the start. Elevation there was 5,000’, and the alpenglow was just hitting the summit of Mt Whitney. Devastatingly beautiful scenery.
6:00 AM—The small crowd of runners gathers for the start at the back of a pickup truck. It’s so much fun to see ultrarunners gathered together—is there a more eccentric group of athletes? They skewed older. I’d guess the average age to be in the low 50s, and there were many incredibly fit senior citizens. Inspiring. I was observing the way the ultra folks accessorize on race day. So many options!
• Shoes—Road shoes, trail shoes or go full “Born to Run” with the Five Fingers?
• Socks—Short running socks, compression socks or rock the gaiters?
• Hat—Do we sport the doo rag, the baseball hat with the neck flaps or the cowboy hat?
• Number bib—it goes either on the hat or the shorts. Never on the shirt.
• Music—Run with or without the iPod?
• Shirt—If you’ve run Badwater, that’s the shirt you wear to earn the respect of your fellow competitors. Lacking that badge of courage, you go with the most obscure ultra participant shirt you can find in the drawer (“The Drunk Pumpkin 50K,” for instance).
6:01 AM—The only instructions from the race director before the start: “If you get lost we’ll bury you where we find you.” With that, the horn sounds and we’re off. The race goes straight uphill for the first 6 miles. In deep sand. At altitude. Unlike most of the participants, I’m only running 10 miles, so I set a brisk pace. It doesn’t last long, however, and by Mile 3 I’m sucking wind as runner after runner blows past me.
7:15 AM—Most runners are power walking the steep hills. As a 10-mile runner, I’m meant to hang a right around Mile 4 and loop back to the start/finish. I get to Mile 6 at a fork in the road. There’s a man standing there and I ask if I am supposed to take a right here. “Whoa! You missed the turn miles ago, son!” OK, decision time: backtrack and try to find the turn I somehow missed, or throw caution to the wind and run a full marathon today? I haven’t run more than 10 miles since Chicago in October. I’m overweight and not nearly ready for a marathon at altitude with 5,000’ of climbing. So I go for the marathon. “Let’s do this!” I think to myself. Life is about opportunities, and one needs to seize those when they present themselves.
7:30 AM—By this time I’ve started running alongside Duane from Reno. He’s 66 and a great grandfather. He smoked for 25 years and didn’t start running until he was in his 30s. He now routinely wins his age group in ultras, is a bike racer and avid snowboarder. From here on out I’ll refer to him as The Inspiration. He sets a mean pace and I’m just trying to keep up.
7:45 AM—The Inspiration and I hit the Mile 7 aid station, manned by Grizzly Adams. The guy’s got a beard down to his belt, and elk hide jacket and he’s slicing oranges with a 12” bowie knife. He’s straight out of central casting. Would have been worth carrying a camera just to get a shot of this guy.
8:00 AM—The Inspiration and I are on the 7 mile long downhill section, clicking off 8-minute miles. We’re feeling good, but I’m quite sure that as soon as I hit the halfway point I’ll blow up.
8:30 AM—We hit the halfway mark and I’m still ok.
10:00 AM—Now at the Mile 20 aid station, I continue to hang on to the pace of The Inspiration.
10:40 AM—We can’t find any mile markers at this point in the race. But we pull up to an aid station and the person there says we’re at Mile 23.7, and that it’s all downhill to the finish. I’m going to make this! The Inspiration and I open it up and bound down the hill towards town. Could we crack 5 hours? We pass a couple guys. We hit the paved road and I start visualizing putting my arms in the air as I cross the finish line.
11:00 AM—Curve ball. The course markings direct us back onto a dirt road heading down into the sagebrush. Headwind. Still no mile markers. But we’re clearly nowhere near the finish. The Inspiration starts pulling away from me. My gas tank hits empty. In any marathon you have to pay the piper sooner or later. I hit the final aid station and beg to know “how much farther?” She says we’re “at least 2 miles” from the finish. I can’t believe it. As I stagger onward, runners start passing me left and right.
11:20 AM—I finally limp across the finish line in 5:20. The Inspiration is waiting there with his wife, and they generously offer to give me a ride back up to my car, which is still parked at the 10-mile start/finish. I’m exhausted, but happy to finish the event. One never knows when adventure is going to call, and I’m glad I was able to answer the phone.