I woke up at 3.30am with a slight panic that my body would have seized up over night, as it has every single other time I have run any ultra distance. I chugged cold coffee and stood up, and wiggled around. Absolutely nothing?! My body felt…great? Really odd. The moon was beaming on us as we managed to get going. We started with a provisional plan to sort of go together, with me navigating. However, this quickly got difficult. Stopping and starting is difficult on a bike, and it’s just fine for me. Route finding was super challenging in the dark, and the terrain was pretty technical. Eventually I pulled ahead in the knowledge that Brad would definitely catch me.
This is the best running I have ever done and I was overwhelmed with all of the happy chemicals. The terrain was challenging, route finding was difficult, but I’ve never felt so agile or happy in my surroundings. There are very gentle rolling hills, my ideal terrain. In the words of Rebecca Solnit: ‘For my friends who run long distances, these tiny fragments of levitation add up to something considerable; by their own power they hover above the earth for many minutes, perhaps some significant portion of an hour or perhaps far more for the hundred-mile races. We fly; we dream in darkness; we devour heaven in bites too small to be measured’. I was devouring heaven and I was thrilled. Brad’s headlamp was long lost behind me and I could no longer hear the mechanical clink of what sounded like things breaking. The gentle light was beginning to pull up.
I adjusted my shorts and looked at my hand which was soaking wet – covered in blood! I looked down and realized that in my ‘nimble’ darting around through the scrub, I had gotten completely ripped up. Everything is sharp in the desert. Nothing looked very severe though and most of the blood was congealed so I kept going.
Eventually I pulled onto a sandy power line road and knew it was only a few miles to water at the rest stop along I25. The rolling hills continued and I pulled in in no time. 10 quite challenging miles by 8am? Lovely. I eventually found the faucet that was on and checked whether the outlets worked (they didn’t). Brad arrived after about 20 minutes and we snacked and rested for a bit. I treated myself to oatmeal now; we were going to be arriving in the small town of Hatch that afternoon and I was almost entirely out of food so I could afford to eat everything I had. It looked like about 20 miles to Hatch, a lot of it on a road, some through a canyon trail. Brad decided that he was going to try to avoid yet another hike-a-bike situation (I think this morning had been challenging for him) by taking a longer but more road route.
I told Brad I would probably be in hatch by 1.30pm – 20 miles, 4 hours?
I called dad while i set off at a steady walk along the road. We both marveled at how amazing my legs felt. Eventually I started to run again, and my legs felt great. I crossed through an underpass – it was soaking wet! I found it hard to believe I really was going to need to get my shoes wet in the desert, but I did. I wasn’t taking t very seriously and it did go above my knees – I almost fell and lost my phone! Must remember that although I have improved my clumsiness, it is not cured.
Running started to get really awesome again. I dipped into this canyon where I MUST have been a little off route as I refuse to accept anyone could carry a bike up this. I was scrambling myself up a steep face. I then moved towards San Diego mountain and just as I was wondering if I would be going on top, veered and started a steep descent. Now this was fun! It was pretty rocky so I wasn’t flying exactly but I found a good rhythm. I did check my watch and see I was moving at 4mph HA so for all my efforts with the rocks i was still going pretty slowly.
I dropped down and hit the train tracks. I knew this next stretch should be easy to hatch – a straight shot on a gravel road then paved. I imagined a cyclist would probably be there in sub 1 hour. This is where my major struggles started. I fell deep into my mind and simply could not run. I was able to walk forward very cheerfully, at a steady 4mph, but the clouds of my mind put dampers on my legs.
I often do this to myself. I can run 20 miles with complete joy but even though my body feels good after that, I crumble. It is complete mental weakness. I defeat myself and I completely loathe this personality trait. I don’t know why I allow myself to crumble and quit so easily. I resorted to running one minute on, one minute off. And I was hoping to call myself an athlete?!
There were lots of trucks driving around. Mostly they didn’t stop to talk but peered curiously. One guy had driven past multiple times when he eventually stopped to ask if I was ok. I sort of grimaced/smiled. He didn’t look convinced but let me run on.
Eventually I realized I had to be a bit less harsh on myself – I was still barreling forward at a pretty good pace, and if I allowed myself to calm down, I felt just fine and cheerful. I think some of this came from imagining Brad just sitting by the store waiting, the promised hours trickling by. I came to accept that even if I wasn’t running, moving forward still counted as OK, and was not complete failure. This ended up moving me along a bit faster and I hit the final 2 mile paved road stretch quite quickly.
Brad was sitting outside the store in true biker trash fashion, shoes off, duct tape in hand. He was trying to reinforce his cycling set up which was a little janky. I was suddenly exhausted but we needed a quick turnaround so that we could at least crack on with the 8 miles along a major highway in the light.
I scarfed a banana and Diet Coke (in times of distress, the comforting taste of chemicals always outweighs the calories) and some bread, and quickly resupplied. Oatmeal and bars and some tortilla wraps as a treat. I needed something that wasn’t sugar. Everyone in the store looked a bit bemused but everyone was very kind to me even as I was slow, smelly and confused.
Eventually we got moving at about 4pm. The wind was up something vicious, blowing right into us, and Brad warned that we had our big uphill coming up. Luckily this was very minor and essentially just a few rolling hills, which actually was nice on my muscles. The wind however was completely ferocious! I could barely punch my weight forward. I sort of had to laugh. The sun was setting beautifully, right into my eyes meaning I could barely see. The cars were whizzing past at a deafening clip. There were hundreds of squished red chilis on the ground. The joy was overwhelming. Sometimes you have to smile into the suck! I could turn around and see the mountains I had been. I could look to my left and see the mountains where I was going. Yes, I was daydreaming of champagne, peppermint tea, cotton pajamas, bubble bath, candles. But I wouldn’t have traded myself to be anywhere else at that very moment. The sun started to set in earnest and the wind picked up. I was still running quite valiantly (I thought) at this point even though it felt like with every foot I moved forward, I moved two feet back. I wanted to get a move on to my turnoff as I only had one headlamp and I wasn’t sure how visible I was going to be able to make myself to cars.
A few people had pulled over asking if I needed a ride, but one man pulled over and was quite insistent I should get in his car. He told me it was a very dangerous place to be alone as a woman as in this EXACT spot many other women had recently been beheaded. Top tip. If you’re trying to be helpful and friendly, please do NOT corner a woman in the dark and tell her stories about other beheaded women!
He left and on I ran, moving just a bit faster. I could see shenanigans happening on my turnoff to the left and eventually crossed the road to find Brad. I urgently put on some layers (as soon as the sun sets it gets pretty nippy) and we set off past the old dairy.
A nice security guard Chris drove by a few times, very worried about our destination. He was insistent we were heading down the wrong road. We both consulted our maps and told him we were confident. He was concerned but let us go on our way. After about a mile I checked maps again and…he was completely right. Chris I am so sorry we doubted you! We tried to figure back the way to the route but there was a barbed wire fence in the way (impassable on a bike apparently) so we were getting a bit discouraged and just went back the way we came. The wind was still magnificently howling but then we stumbled on a massive heap of tires. It was a bit creepy but with a quick rearrangement they made the perfect wind shield. And that was that. It wasn’t too cold in the end and after stuffing some tortillas in my mouth I completely passed out.
Low: beating myself up for not running race pace even with 30 pounds in my back. I do still think it was weak to allow myself to walk, but being so harsh on myself only exacerbated the problem.
High: smiling into the suck. A complete attitude shift that occurred between orchards and leaving Hatch. I may not be the athlete I aspire to be, but I am getting there.