Dark Sky 50 Miler: Layers of Trail Beauty

2228EEBC-590E-45DF-ACF8-04E16C7C7C5B.jpegDark Sky 50 miler for May the Fourth, 2019, in Pickett State Park and Big South Fork Forests.
Layers and textures of forest: My words want to tumble forward, pressing out and growing in green and lush drippings of fern fronds and pink bulbous lady slipper flowers hanging on tiny stems, my thoughts want to surge out with a force of stone scarred and scratched, etched and oozing with thousands, millions, of years of changing. My heart still beats wildly with memories of the yellow trillium, the monkshood and hundreds of tiny unnameable flowers and fungi, the rocks with colored ooze, and stones home to universes of moss and sandwort and all manner of wort. All hues of green and brown swayed together so they turn kaleidoscopic as we plunged into the forest and rose up out again and again.

First, up before the dawn, the whippoorwill sang. I haven’t heard one since my grandmother sold the family farm, where the whippoorwills’ home was at the fork in the road and it sang daily. I lost myself in listening to the whippoorwill, my memories, and preparing for the race, mixing the sports drink for my pack; before I realized, it was almost 6 am, the start of the race. I threw my Stormtrooper shirt on and the backpack. A quick run downhill and I was at the lodge. B4FC7F25-089B-458D-AE81-003D86241078
I couldn’t find my friend, my running partner from my last race in December. I thought it would be easy with only 108 registered runners. He thought it would be easy. We would just meet at the race start. But, I was skimming into the race start that morning, checking in, making sure I had what I needed, and taking a bathroom break.

Suddenly, the race was on, and we were all moving in a herd and I hadn’t found B anywhere. My playlist started with Jimi (a lot of Jimi for this one), “Let Me Move You” was the first to move me.
D8AC11B3-9350-40F7-B39E-8B1DAF3D4F9F.jpegBecause we were so far out in the forest, I didn’t have cell service since the day before when we exited the interstate, which was about an hour away from the park entrance. B, my running partner who I met at my last race, was staying at Charit Creek Lodge (camp) in Big South Fork, and my husband and I stayed at Pickett State Park, where the race started and ended. The parks are on the line of the time zones, so part of the time my phone said CST and part of the time, it said EST, but it wouldn’t communicate via text or phone to anyone. This became a mental challenge as I couldn’t keep track of my time properly, not to mention I was mesmerized by the beauty of the forest. First realization, I should have worn a regular old watch. Next time. And, I reached out to the trees, traced fingertips across bark as I passed by.
A985584C-78A6-41E1-A7B4-4CE9AAD0F9B7.jpegTerry, my husband, was my one-man crew, so even though I didn’t see B, I knew that Terry would be at some of the aid stations, and that would help bolster me along. This was my first 50 mile race, and while I felt prepared as I could be, I just didn’t know if my body would agree to push past 31.069 miles (50km), my farthest distance until the 50 miler.

The race began with a quick jaunt through the trails around the lodge/rec center at Pickett State Park, and someone said it best in front of me, “Great, it’s the obligatory first walk of the trail run.” Yes, once you run a few trail runs, you soon realize that if you don’t angle yourself to get toward the front of the pack (regardless of if you are a fast finisher or not—remember, the finish is far far away, so it’s not about that), then you will be stuck on a single track in a long line of trail runners who are forced to walk due to the middle group. The middle group does the run/walk early. The front runners keep running for a while to create distance and walk later, much later, and some probably don’t walk much at all. I do walk in the middle and at the end, but in the beginning, I just want to get going. If you get stuck at the beginning, you walk, and if you are like me, this creates a lot of anxiety because I am stuck in a pack like a road run, and that’s why I don’t do road races; I don’t want to be in a crowd of any sort. I like to join with one or two runners, but if that can’t happen, I prefer flying solo. I know how I like to run and when I am forced into a condition, then the anxiety rises up. I choose runs with less people so that the crowd isn’t a factor. I get such bad anxiety in big road races that I have vomited for miles and once the anxiety gets started, it’s difficult for me to turn it off. This is both unhealthy and embarrassing. So, I will never set my sights on a Boston Marathon. I love the forest and running in it beyond anything, and it doesn’t cause me to vomit even after 50 miles. I can’t imagine hitting the pavement anymore than we had to in this Dark Sky 50 miler just to get from the trails at Pickett State Park over to Big South Fork trails. We ran about three miles, at the most, of pavement.

That morning, when we finally got to that first little stretch of pavement, I was happy because the herd could break apart and spread out. I was actually a little panicked at that point because I needed some trail and some good space. I didn’t see B anywhere. I was trying to get toward the front a little more just to see if he was up there. At the Bell Ringer 50km which we partially ran together, he was in front of me for a long time in the beginning of the race, so I reasoned that he must be in front of me again. Still, as we neared the trail head, I hadn’t seen him.
BAF184F3-77F4-4760-B4B3-F5CC88EC4D78.jpeg “If 6 Was 9” played about this time and I was ready for the forest. When we exited the pavement and hit the trails into Big South Fork, it was beautiful. I eased into my stride, so happy to run at a peaceful pace. The views around the rock formations and small caves kept me going and longing for more.

About the time I was listening to “Mojo Man” and fighting with my earbuds to fit correctly in my ears, I realized that I had been traveling behind two guys for a while. I would get closer to them and then back off again, giving them space. They asked if I wanted to pass.
“No way,” I said. “I appreciate you letting me cruise behind you guys.”

I knew that riding their wave was great, and I didn’t want to move. J started the introductions, and he was our trail leader. He was adept, and I felt confident being on their path. J was experienced with some impressive runs on his resume, but he didn’t tell me that. P told me. P is training for a 100-miler, and he has some 50s under his belt. He said that he had met J and kept running farther and farther. I was so relieved, and knew I was with the right guys, especially when J gave the trail a good cussing when his hat fell down a ravine into a waterfall as we rounded and rounded and rounded.

“Little Wing” was there and I felt as if I was walking through the clouds, in a fairytale, but I was in the forest. I felt like a kid with my cousins slashing our way through the saw briars and following cow paths into a “holler” on our grandparents’ farm, not that far away (maybe one hour west) from where we were running as the crow flies. Trombone Shorty was playing by this time. A little “Buckjump” and a little “Hurricane Season” went great with all the hopping.

J and P were the best trail leaders. I knew that they would get me to B if he was up there. We crossed many streams, creeks, and I swear one of them was a river, gushing, and we used the rope because they told us “Don’t be rockstars. It’s slippery.” It was indeed slippery. We clawed up banks. I was hearing Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings by then, and was “Settling In” as she reminded me to “Be Easy” Baby. We hopped trees, straddled trees (I bear hugged because I am short), slid off stones, navigated jagged points of rock, slid down leafy trails, turned, and bounced around giant rock formations, creeks and streams, tiny waterfalls, slick bridges, and slanted bridges, slatted bridges, ladders, and rock paths, rock ledges.

And we were at 13.something. A bunch of crew and volunteers suddenly cheered. There was a giant pickle asking me questions. Huh?
“Do you need anything?”
No, thank you. Thank you. Thank you. That’s all I felt, gratitude for everyone there. Nashville Running Company presented the race and the volunteers were all wonderful.

Terry was there. “You’re doing great! You have good time. Do you feel okay?”

“Yeah, it’s beautiful in there,” I said, even though we were still in the forest; we were just crossing a dirt road at that point, but I meant the trails; it felt like being enfolded into the trails.

“You have us way the fuck out here in the sticks!” he said. “Whoa, these Jeep roads. I almost got the little car stuck.” He was so nervous that he couldn’t refill my pack at first, and he was fumbling with it while talking to me. We finally got it in and I ditched the storm trooper shirt. I was already soaking wet. The humidity started to rise. My fingers swelled as I left the aid station, telling Terry that I love him.

My playlist had reached The Rolling Stones, Dance Pt. 1, who said to “Get up, get out, get into something new. It’s got me moving, ya’ll.” I headed down the trail to find a good spot for a bathroom pit stop. I noted that I had already drank a 2liter of Vitargo. My fingers swelled and I realized that I forgot to get the handheld bottle with plain water. I was happy to have a fresh 2 liter in my hydration pack, but I really wanted plain water more and more and was irritated with myself for forgetting it.

I lost J and P somewhere in all that, too. The beauty kept coming but so did the challenges. I had to follow the white flags on my own, as my own leader, and sometimes I got a little panicked when I couldn’t find a flag, but eventually, I grooved with it and found the rhythm.

Alicia Keys sang what my heart thought, “I keep on fallin in and out of love with you,” to the trail. I climbed rock stairs, wooden stairs, tiny wooden stairs with a leg span for men 6 feet tall. I am 5 feet tall, but I leaned into them and bounded down, hooked around the switchbacks. “The Weight” by The Band played and I felt it lift me up a little lighter, a little easier.

Yoga came in handy. I felt as if I was playing trail “Chutes and Ladders” at times. I stretched, lunged, walk skip or jump your feet up from plank, yep, got that covered on the Sheltowee Trail. Left an eka pada rajakapotasana back by the creek, malasana under a medium sized waterfall, hanumanasana! between two trees to the limit! “Message to Love” from Jimi played and that’s what I felt. Great love and respect for the forest. Gulping it in. Slip on down and breathe, breathe.

I would catch sight of runners ahead and behind me sometimes. No B. J and P were long gone. I was following footsteps of other runners sometimes. We passed each other sometimes and everyone was encouraging, everyone cheered each other on, everyone was kind. “Goin’ Up the Country” by Canned Heat reminded that “the water tastes like wine” and that we could “jump in the water, stay drunk all the time.” I definitely felt groovy without any need for alcohol. The John Muir trail dipped into dark forest winding, and I was thinking of all the footfalls that had traversed the trails, thinking of timelessness, and sometimes the dream state held me. 240EC778-657D-4484-A8F1-C67E96D0D02D.jpegI was looking into the valley from the top of a rock perch with a bee hive buzzing all around me and then I was down in the ravine with big boulders, crows cawing out warnings, and then it started to rain, to pour down, and a full on gulley-washer waylaid me, as I was headed for the aid station at mile 20-something.

I got little paper cups of water and drank a lot of it. The rain poured down. I was so happy. Again, I was incredibly thankful for the volunteers who hiked out there with water and sat in the rain for us. My fingers went back to normal, and I settled into a run and then a walk and a run and then a walk.

I didn’t see Terry at the aid station, and I worried about him trying to hike in to it and missing me. He broke his foot a little over a year ago, a bad break, and these wild, single-track obstacle-ridden trails could be treacherous for someone like him. Still, I had to go on. I had no way to contact him. My phone didn’t have service. I stopped taking pictures because everything was wet.

I zipped the phone up and didn’t listen to music either. Trumpet flower blooms littered the trails which were lined with foam flowers. Some rhododendrons bloomed their pink tongues out toward the rain. The trail turned to slush, and mud holes that got deeper and deeper as we ran alongside the river. I stepped in mud up to my knees and I plunged forward trying to navigate through slippery mud dirt, sloshing mud like thin concrete with holes that threatened to swallow me. The creeks and streams poured through the trail toward the river that sang beside me. Slushy, sloshing between rocks, the trail became a creek and a stream. I thought that I was running up the river at one point.

I sat in a waterfall and felt my skin sting and burn from chaffing. The cold water soothed it. I counted to twenty seconds and ran again. I ran and ran, saw the sliding footprints of other runners as they had tried to navigate the trail. I sat in another stream and counted to twenty. “Cold, cold water.” And, I ran again. Moving onward, the trail finally pulled up and up, still holding mud holes and dirt slicks and running streams, but moving up nonetheless, until finally I reached the split to Charit Creek.

Terry was there! Hallelujahs! And they were playing Jimi. I was “Home” for a few minutes.
“Have you seen B?” I asked.
“No, I haven’t seen him anywhere,” he said.

I took out my earbuds and moved around my phone, discovering a peppermint stick I had put in that morning. I couldn’t eat anything, but I left it in the pack and gave the pack to Terry to refill. I took the handheld water bottle, thanked the volunteers and headed out on the small loop at Charit Creek toward the Twin Arches. I was so happy to be relieved of my pack for a short loop. And, I was waiting for this part. I wanted to see this more than anything else on the run.

My hands smelled like peppermint and a song started to play in my head, “a peppermint stick for old Saint Nick. Hang it on the Christmas tree. A holiday season. Loopdeloop. He’ll be coming down the chimney down.” All mixed up and playing in my head. “Peppermint stick. Loopdeloop…down the chimney down…” I realized after I had already traversed the wooden plank horizontal stilt bridges over the swampy area and was climbing into rock formation territory that I had forgotten my phone to change the music in my head and to take pictures. It was still in my pack. That deflated me. I was down, “he’ll be coming down the chimney down” my legs were sad, and I almost cried as I passed gorgeous rock formation after rock formation.

“Loopdeloop. Leave a peppermint stick.” I thought about dropping out and getting my phone and coming back around, taking pictures of this loop, and then just walking out with Terry. I was tired anyway. I had already ran farther than ever before in my life. I had felt love and gratitude all morning. I was immersed in the beauty of the earth and the human spirit. “Peppermint stick for ole Saint Nick. Hang it on the Christmas tree. Holiday season!Whoopdedoop on this loopdeloop. Coming down the chimney down…merry bells keep ringing. Whoopdedoop on this loopdeloop…”

Ugh, I laughed and tried to shake off the loopdeloop happening in my brain. I looked up to the majestic stones, the rocks towering, sheltering, snuggling together. Then, I came to the Twin Arches and met C. He was standing underneath it. I had been following him for a little while at some distance back. He said, “wow, it’s incredible!” Or something like that. I was so taken aback by the beauty of it, that scene, that it didn’t matter how he phrased it, I felt the same sense of wonder.

We headed back down the trail and C led the way. He introduced himself and told me that it was his second year to run the race. I told him that it was my first 50-miler and he said, “you’re doing great, much better than I did last year.” He explained that it was hot the previous year and he dehydrated, barely finishing the race. This year, the rain made it challenging, and as far as I was at that point, he said that I should definitely keep going. Walk, see how far you can get, that was his advice. We made it back to the Charit Creek aid station again. I took a bathroom break, picked up my pack from Terry, telling him I’d see him at the end, and headed up to Gobbler’s Knob, the big hill many had warned me about.

Mush! Climb! Push! I kept going and met up with C again around one of the bends. We reached Gobbler’s Knob together. My time was all messed up at that point. They said to keep going, so after some water, I headed off down a double track Jeep-like trail. C stayed behind at Gobbler’s Knob for a rest in a chair for a moment. If I sat down, I wouldn’t get up, so I kept moving.

This was one of my least favorite parts of the course. Miles of Jeep road. Gravel. I didn’t enjoy the views as much, but I knew that it was a way to get from trail to trail at times. I turned the music on again and it was Jimi’s “Wild Thing” which definitely helped me along. Finally, after another aid station, I plunged back onto a single track into the forest to Led Zeppelin’s “Over the Hills and Far Away”. It met up with a trail we had been on that morning. I put away the music again and crossed the creek(river) that I had crossed with J and P. I held the rope and swayed into the water as it poured through the banks from the earlier rain.

I made it to the second creek(river) crossing and the bank was a slick mud slide down. A woman was scooting down on her butt. A couple of other runners were headed up the other side. Three volunteers were waiting for everyone to cross. They were clearing the trails, checking to be sure that everyone was going to be on time because it was getting late at this point. Once it got dark, it would be difficult to see in the deep forest even with a headlamp. I held some trees and started to descend the bank toward the creek(river) crossing. “I’m sorry that I’m in your way,” the woman said. She was almost in the water by then.
“Oh, you’re not at all. I’m fine to wait here,” I said.
The volunteers told me about the rope about the same time that I saw it in the mud. I grabbed it and started down the bank. The woman had reached the water. I took about three steps when the rope came undone and I slid until my ankle slammed into a rock. I was worried. It popped hard against the rock. This was about the fifth or twenty-fifth time I’d fallen depending on how you count them. I sat there for a few minutes. The volunteers came to help.
“Put it in the cold water,” one suggested.
“Just sit as long as you need to,” another said. “You’re almost there.”
“Yes, yes,” I said. Another helped me slide the rest of the way into the water.
“I can bear weight,” I said. “It’s okay. Just popped the shit out of it.” I held the rope and started across the creek(river) surge. The current knocked my legs out and I slid on the rocks. The rope swayed out with me. “Just hold on and sit there for a minute,” one of them said. “You can just take a bath,” one of them said.
“Okay, I’m up,” I said. And then the current knocked me down again and the rope swayed. My legs were simply tired, and I couldn’t get my footing. I held on and sat with the water again. “I think I will sit here for a while,” I said. Finally, I made it across.
“Just walk the rest of the way if you need to,” one of them yelled after me.
“I will,” I said.

After a little walking, I ran again and turned on the music for a final round. Big Mama Thornton wailed “I’m Feelin’ Alright” and then “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright, Baby, because I feel it in my bones.” All along the creek and up through the forest. It was the same way we entered that morning. I ran my hands along the flower petals and moss. I was past 40 miles at that point.

I took some pictures because I knew the Jeep road and then the pavement would be at the end, not many more great views, just getting home. I turned off the music after Rusted Root played “Drum Trip” and I was nearing a runner who I wanted to ask about the end of the course. She told me that we were at the final 5.4 miles to the finish. She had ran some previous 50s and maybe longer, I can’t recall exactly what she said because I was tired at that point. She told me that I had definitely earned this first 50 miles of mine, as the pouring rain had made the course really tough. Many people had dropped at the aid stations due to injuries, she said. I hadn’t noticed, but I wondered if B was one of them. I was hoping to see him at the finish, already having completed the race. About the time I was going to ask her name, she took off for a bathroom break. “So don’t forget to hang up your socks cause just exactly at twelve o’clock, he’ll be coming down the chimney down.” I realized that the “loopdeloop” and “coming down the chimney, down!” were spinning in my head again.

The Jeep road and pavement were uneventful. How I loathed them both but I had to admit that I was happy to be out of the mud. My clothes were drying out a little. I had plenty to drink. I kept moving forward. The woman passed me again once we reached the pavement and I followed her from the group camp and ranger residence out the road. As we climbed up the final hill toward the Pickett State Park turn into the lodge/rec center, two boys about eleven years old cheered from a trail where they had laid their bikes down.
“We got up when the race started and we’ve been waiting for everyone to come in all day,” one of them said to the woman up ahead of me.
I couldn’t hear what she said, but it was kind, and they talked some more to her. I told them thank you as I passed by them. Behind me, they debated together on which way to go.

Finally, we crested the hill and were in the home stretch. The boys passed me on their bikes, cheering, telling me that I was almost there and doing great! I could hear the cheers as the woman in front of me crossed the finish. Then, I could hear the cheers for me. I saw Terry. I was both calm and overwhelmed as I crossed the finish line and received my Finisher’s Medal. P was there, congratulating me. He said that he and J were looking for me to finish anytime. I thanked him for running with me for a while that morning. Terry and I talked for a moment and he took pictures.

I saw J, who had went to change clothes, and we congratulated one another, too. Terry didn’t see B anywhere. The next day, when I finally had cell service, I found out that B was behind me a little ways, and he didn’t make the Gobbler’s Knob cut off.

It poured down rain about thirty minutes after I finished. I put my stinky black running clothes out in the rain and joked that a skunk would show up to mate with them since they were speaking skunk language. It poured and poured rain for much of the night. Terry and I stayed in a rustic cabin built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, young men who were out of work in the 1930s. The park contains a small museum that tells the story of how the men of the CCC constructed cabins, the lodge, and miles and miles of road and trails and more.

It was all possible because of their work. Terry and I talked about them, how we each had thought about those men throughout the day, how we could understand why they loved it there and wanted to build something beautiful. I would stay and build something beautiful there, be in that forest. Terry built a fire and we ate pizzas that he made. I drank vegetable broth, coffee, and tea, and iced my legs.

The rain stopped by the next morning and the whippoorwills sang again. Terry and I went out on the trail before leaving the next day. We took a very short hike to a waterfall and sat among the rocks beside the glowing green sandwort. We reached our hands out into the water falling from the forest above us.

Partial Playlist:
“Let Me Move You” Jimi Hendrix
“Mojo Man” Jimi Hendrix
“If 6 Was 9” Jimi Hendrix
“Little Wing” Jimi Hendrix
“Buckjump” Trombone Shorty
“Hurricane Season” Trombone Shorty
“Settling In” Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings
“Be Easy” Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings
“Rock Me, Baby” (Live) The Rolling Stones
“Dance, Pt. 1” The Rolling Stones
“Fallin’” Alicia Keys
“The Weight” The Band
“Message to Love” Jimi Hendrix
“Strawberry Swing” Coldplay
“Goin’ Up to the Country” Canned Heat
“We Gotta Live Together” (Home) Jimi Hendrix
“Happy Holidays” Andy Williams
“Wild Thing” Jimi Hendrix
“Over the Hills and Far Away” Led Zeppelin
“I’m Feelin’ Alright” Big Mama Thornton
“Everything’s Gonna Be Alright” Big Mama Thornton
“Drum Trip” Rusted Root

Nashville Running Company’s Dark Sky 50 miler

Bell Ringing 50k Ultra Trails Remix

Sometimes, you have to return to the scene and take back your lost mojo. In 2014, I tried my first 50km ultra marathon, after moving up from a half to a 25km and then on to a marathon distance. At just over 26 miles in the 2014 Bell Ringer, I dropped out of the race due to back pain. And, I let my fear and anxiety control me. Even though I dropped out of the race, I continued to trail run almost every day, but I never signed up for another race.

This year, 2018, I decided to train all year in preparation for this December 8’s race. I’m also a yoga teacher, and when I met with one of the park rangers in July to discuss a yoga class at Montgomery Bell State Park, I had no thoughts of the Bell Ringer being part of our discussion, but she asked if I would teach a yoga class before the race at the Friday night check-in. I agreed. Without a doubt, I would teach a yoga class and then run the 50km the next day, but my fears threatened to creep into my excitement.

Nonetheless, I created a rigorous training schedule at my home park, about an hour away, Dunbar Cave State Park, where I have been running regularly for just over a decade now. I felt confident when I surpassed 20 miles during a training run at Dunbar about a month before the race was scheduled.

All week leading up to the Bell Ringer, the forecast looked foreboding with high percentages for rain all across the mid-South, and a cold rain was predicted at that. I checked and checked, but the forecast held steady. My husband, Terry, kept reassuring me that it would hold off, and the rain wouldn’t arrive in the area until evening. I was hoping that he was right, but my gear check included a poncho, extra socks, extra shoes for the check-in at 21.6 miles, and more. He had provided me with all of my gear and new cold-weather running clothes the week before the race, so I knew that he had his own doubts about the weather.

The night before the race, I went to check-in, taught yoga to one runner who was brave enough to share a great slow flow stretch-out practice with me. I was proud of us for honoring the need to practice yoga and for not being intimated by the people who checked in behind us. He told me that I helped him with some postures, and he felt relaxed before the race, and that was all reassuring as a teacher. He would be running the 25km, and we wished each other luck as we parted ways.

I spent the night with my parents who live in the same town where the park is located. They prepared a light dinner and encouraged me, reminding me of how hard I’ve trained and how many miles I have run on my own since the last time I attempted the race. I don’t like to overload my gut, so I keep my food intake light and I try to consume several small “meals”, though sometimes that meal is only a pile of broiled shrimp.

I went to bed early, hoping that it wasn’t raining in the morning. I slept soundly until 3 am when I awoke with a feeling of wild excitement, wondering what lay ahead in a few hours. I willed myself back to a surface sleep.

Morning, and I was ready, preparing with my mom in the kitchen. She cooked egg whites and vegetarian sausages. I boiled water and prepared my drink food in the bladder for my pack and in the handheld plastic bottle. I planned for Vitargo to be my primary food during the race. I’ve never been able to eat and run, so I discovered that Vitargo will feed me as a drink and then I don’t have to deal with my moody stomach. This muscle food works for me wonderfully. I feel full and my stomach is happy while I run. This is what I kept telling myself that morning, too, because honestly, I wasn’t sure if that would be the case once I reached over 27 miles. I didn’t know how my gut would behave, and it had been a nemesis through many races.

I got everything ready and looked outside for a moment to see if it was raining. Instead, I saw white flakes illuminating the dark morning.

I yelled for my dad, “It’s snowing!”
He didn’t believe me and looked outside. “That’s better than rain,” he said. I agreed.

In fact, I was eager to go and get started once I had all my gear in place. On the way over to the race, my mom and I kept telling my dad to hurry up and go on, but he was spotting deer and kept slowing to point them out to us. “Yes, you’ll see a lot of deer this morning,” he assured me.

We made it through a couple more deer sightings and arrived at the park hotel where the race begins and ends in the parking area. The energy at the race start line felt on the jumpy-sluggish-eager-positive side. We were all ready to get going so that we wouldn’t be so cold. There were nerves about potential rain. It was cloudy so some of our own sleepyheads kept interrupting our need to run and warm up. We walked in circles, waiting to go, listening to Ranger Megan give us a quick briefing on the race course. Then, they rang the bell and suddenly, we were moving. “We’re all crazy!” someone shouted. I waved to my parents. My smile would not go away as we headed toward the golf course and turned into it.

I was suddenly aware of everyone’s music coming through their headphones and the conversations around me. I don’t usually listen to music or use earbuds during my training runs, and I realized that I had forgotten to connect my headphones and set up my music to play when I was ready. It was the one thing that I forgot in my excitement that morning, and for a race, I definitely need music. I’m usually a solo runner, and I’m not used to listening to other runners on the trail, and during a race, there are a lot of other runners who make their own sounds.

Luckily, I found my earbuds in the vest pocket but they were a tangled mess. I ran for 2.5 miles trying to untangle those damn things, and I was already cussing and dropping my glove every half mile. I used a spare pair of gloves (turquoise) to keep the phone warm so that the battery stayed charged for longer. I ran back three times to pick up one of the gloves. Finally, I left it back by a creek somewhere because I couldn’t even see it on the trail.

But the music was on, and I still had three gloves and two hats! Yes, that’s correct, 3 gloves. I wore a pair of red gloves and a red hat. I carried the spare turquoise gloves and a rainbow hat my friend Emily knitted for me for extra luck and warmth. I was good to go and the music was playing.

“Finally Moving” by Pretty Lights started me off. I created this playlist of hip hop, electronica/ house and lounge music. My husband was obsessed with it during our twenties, so I knew this music could carry me the distance. It had been our music of choice for all-nighters in Amsterdam and riding the train back the next morning to Zandvoort. I imagined the clubs and people, the djs, the dancing and euphoria. Daydreaming on the trail is good stuff, especially since I am writing a book with that time period and setting in part of it. I planned to daydream when needed during the race.

Dreamy moments began early, once the music was in place, but then 25km runners began passing us. They had started 30 min later than us 50k runners, and they jolted me back into the present moment, descending a ditchy hill with big chunky rocks.

By then, my playlist rattled and “Down” by Marian Hill kept me going by the cabin and through the ore pits. Everyone was spread out with enough space around us, and the courtesy was unmatched. Everyone moved over to let other runners pass who were faster. It was easy going and pleasant running all the way to the park office. Passing by, I said hello to my parents and stopped at the aid station for a bathroom break.

I was a little choked up as I crossed under the bridge over to the other side of the park to run the mountain bike trails. “Waiting Too Long” by Hippie Sabotage played, and I felt that I had indeed waited too long to run the race again. To run any race. I realized that the Bell Ringer of 2014 was the last race I had run and I’d dropped out so close to finishing that it surprised me to realize that I had unintentionally stopped signing up for races at that point, even though I started running 100 mile weeks, and put in over 1800 miles year after year.

All of those thoughts weighed me down over on the twists and turns and ups and downs, round and round, of the mountain bike area. “Go F*ck Yourself” by Two Feet was there just in time to remind me that I needed to tell my own sabotaging self that very thing. It was a song for grinding and I had placed it perfectly.

While 25k runners knuckle-bumped me and sped on their way, including the yoga student from the night before, I was battling that area and myself. It was too early in the run to struggle, I thought, but every time I tried to resurge, I felt weighed down.

“Tearing Me Up” by Bob Moses was truth about the trail at that moment. I was in awe of the beauty—the snow covering the short pines, the creeks sparkling between snow-powdered stones, the cold white blankets lining the tree branches, the deep green of the ferns, the comforting squish of the trail underfoot, textures of bark above and below, and I reminded myself how in love I am with the trail. I snuck in a few Jimi songs to bring me comfort right when I would probably be needing them. “Little Wing” was what I needed to lead me out of that side. I stopped at the aid station again and passed my family.

“I’m so fatigued,” I told them. My trot was slow, and I waited for the group of runners ahead of me to take off on the single track that I knew was taking us to the stairs and then the halfway point of the 50km. “Just walk and hydrate for a few minutes,” my husband said.

I walked up the trail and in the direction of the stairs and drank, drank, drank. I found “River” by Bishop Briggs and that picked up my pace again. Moving me down by the creek and then up by the lake, where I passed a group of Boy Scouts with huge packs.

I was happy to be alone as a runner on the trail. I could see the group ahead of me when I needed to, and I didn’t see a soul behind me. I was in my solo run place and “Just Jammin’” by Gramatik by then. My feet were finally happy, my legs were happy, and my whole body decided to be happy around the lake, jumping creeks, and past another group of hikers to cover a section of the trail that we had ran earlier in the morning. This time, I was slower and stepped with care into the gulleys.

“Stolen Dance” by Milky Chance lifted me across the road, where I told a volunteer at the aid station how happy I was feeling to be over the halfway mark. “Halfway home. Halfway there” DJ Shadow spun through my speakers.

I was dancing down the trails and drinking a lot of food. I love the part of the trail that comes next. Through the pines, across the creeks and bridges, Moss-lined trails sparkling with icy snow, another view of the lake, and everything was “Gold” by Chet Faker as I rambled alongside the lake on the single track, slippery, beauty of a trail with gorgeous roots from the trees decorating it. I admired the trail’s variety and movement, its ever-changing textures.

When I rose up over the Spillway trail, I was in the place of “Feeling Good,” the Bassnectar Remix of Nina Simone’s classic. When we were dating twenty years ago, my husband and I would meet at the Spillway in the evenings. He and I would run the Spillway trail to the church road, and that was the exact route of the race.

Passing through the aid station at just over 19 miles, I felt great and picked up a little speed. I was in time with “Lovin’ It” by Marian Hill, and crossed the roads and back up the ore pits, this time in the opposite direction from earlier in the morning.

Again, I had trouble with my gloves as I tried to text, take photos, and change my music. “Way Down We Go” by Kaleo, and I backtracked for the glove again and again, until finally losing another one. I stopped looking and kept going. But then, I couldn’t find one of the unmatched gloves, and was aggravated because it was somewhere in my vest, I thought (turns out, one of the turquoise gloves was in my parents’ car the whole time, so I only had 3 gloves with me at the start). At that moment in the race, I assessed that I had one red glove on my left hand, one red hat on my head, the lucky Emily hat in my pocket, and one turquoise glove lost in my vest (but it wasn’t); the other red glove was lost somewhere in the half mile behind me, and one turquoise glove was lost between miles 3 and 4 at the start. “Errrrr!” I growled. Then, I put the lucky Emily hat on my hand that didn’t have a glove. It worked out.

I bounded down a big hill and met up with a fellow runner whom I had seen back at the beginning of the race and again at one of the aid stations. Someone had asked him if he was in the 101st, which would have meant that he was from Ft. Campbell, my neck of the woods. I asked him about it because I hadn’t heard his exact answer, just that he wasn’t in the 101st, but that he had been a soldier. We talked about where he had been stationed while he was in the Army.

He and I ran together past the cabin and alongside the creek back up to the cemetery. I was listening to “Sure Thing” by St. Germain as we talked about running, yoga, life. Turned out, he was a yoga teacher, too. Having the company was great, and making it to the next aid station felt like a breeze compared to my struggle with picking up the gloves.

My new running friend stopped to eat at the aid station. My husband caught up to me there and refilled my Vitargo, and I took off again. I was cruising around the outback area toward the fire tower road. I knew the out and back was coming up, and that part was challenging for me in 2014. I told myself to get rid of the negative thoughts.

About the time I was listening to “Flashed Junk Mind” by Milky Chance, I saw signs attached to the trees. Dirtbaggers were waiting, I realized, and then heard a loud scream ahead, followed by cheers and more screaming. In the distance, I saw a large human-sized panda bear screaming her head off at me. Cheering for me. She opened her arms up and I opened my arms wide and ran toward her. We met and embraced, and she screamed more. High fives with my fellow dirtbags, noticing that they had quite a spread laid out for those who could eat and run, and I was scooting down the gravel road. I told myself to keep running through the out and back and then I’d walk. I was getting tired again and needed to drink more of my food.

At the turnaround, a volunteer had stocked the back of his truck with every kind of snack you can imagine. It was like a convenience store. “Grab some calories,” he said.

“Thank you,” I said, “but I’m okay. I’ve got juice.” I took a big drink and kept moving.

After I made it through the turn, I stopped and slurped down as much food as possible. About that time, the running friend I made earlier had caught up to me. We chatted a little but he was in the zone. I told him to go ahead, and we’d see each other later if we were meant to.

I started to trot again but I was feeling “Faded” (by Zhu) and it was playing. I ran through the Dirtbag station again and up the hill. I didn’t see my running friend at all. I was guessing that he had paired up with the two guys who had been running about a tenth of a mile in front of me for a while. I lost track of them somewhere around the Dirtbag station.

After I made it up the hill, I struggled a lot. There was a stalled train on the tracks that ran alongside the road. The train sat there beside me, unmoved. “Brighter” by Rufus du Sol reminded me of how low I was right then. I argued with myself about being too cold and too hot, being hungry, getting stuck at the same place in the race. My positive thoughts fought to win out. “Leftover” by Dennis Lloyd was this moment. I heard a runner approaching behind me. I moved over to the right side.

“Hey,” my runner friend said from beside me and began to walk with me.
“Oh, I thought you were long gone,” I said. “Did you stop back there?”
He had and eaten some potatoes. I was relieved to see him. I told him that I was struggling. He told me that my husband had stopped as he was leaving the aid station back at mile 21.6, and my husband told him to watch out for me. He said, “I don’t know if he meant that he wanted me to look after you or to watch out because you might beat me.”

We both laughed. I said that it was because Terry knew that was the toughest part of the race for me and he was asking him to look out for me. We walked. He tried cracking a few jokes, but I missed them. My brain wasn’t firing on time, and it took me a few minutes to catch up mentally as well as physically. I drank more, knowing I needed more fuel. I felt so bad that he was walking but he assured me that he needed to slow down for a little bit. We talked about life again, yoga, running. I drank a lot of food and begged my brain to release an endorphin. About that time, my second Jimi song played, “Hear My Train A-Comin'” and I had to laugh at the irony. My new friend talked about 100 mile and 50 mile races. I said that those were crazy. He reminded me of the potential in the human body, the ability for endurance and strength. We talked about injuries and how yoga can help. My husband broke his leg/ankle this year, so we discussed that. We walked. Finally, he said, “Do you think you can shuffle run up to that tree right up there?”

“I’ll try,” I said. We did the shuffle run and kept going. We alternated between running and walking. We neared another road crossing at the back of the park, and my friend told me that he had never ran a full marathon yet. I checked my timer to see where we were in our mileage. We were over 26 miles, and the two of us did a high five in honor of his first marathon!

Finally, once we crossed the 27 mile mark, I was relieved completely. I had made it past my old stopping place from 2014. “Solo Sunrise” by Chet Faker played somewhere in this time, and I was at the approaching sunset with a friend, but it was so fitting in melody. We had made it past the final cutoff an hour and a half ahead of the time. Everything in my body woke up at that moment. All my anxiety dissipated. I was excited, relaxed, and feeling strong. I wondered if my running friend was an angel, and told him thank you for helping me through the terrible slump I had hit back there. He said that he just wanted to cross the finish line and feel good at the end. I agreed. “Drop the Game” by Flume and Chet Faker coincided. I had experienced enough races when I couldn’t drive myself afterward and felt so terrible that I could barely make it to the end.

We rambled down the hillside and crossed a bunch of creeks again, talking along the way, feeling good. “Telemetron” by Hexstatic and a couple more from the Listen and Learn album propelled me with beats. My excitement grew as we neared the final aid station. I heard the highway as we ran atop the hillside. The hotel was through the trees in the distance. I pointed it out to him. We would run the hillside down to the front entrance of the park and then hook back toward the hotel. Both of us were eager to make it down the hill and across the road to the final length of trail. Shirley Bassey’s “Easy Thing To Do” remix by Nightmares on Wax was like a lullaby giving me a lilt in my run.

My family was waiting for us at the final aid station and cheered us on. My dad said that he would run with us if we needed a pacer to the end, but we were okay and ready to make it.

Up the hill, we wound our way toward the hotel, down the stairs, across the bridge, and up, up, up stairs at the end. We high-fived as we crossed the bridge. We ran up the stairs side-by-side. Jimi always plays for me near the end, and this was no exception. “Who Knows” his guitar wailed.

In the parking area, about a quarter of a mile from the finish line, my friend said, “You go ahead and run across the finish line. Your family is up there.” His calves were cramping up.

“No way!” I said. “You stayed with me when I was having a hard time, and we’re crossing the finish line together.” We walked.
I said, “Let’s walk around this last corner and then there’s a straightaway, we can do it. We can run it in.”

And, that’s what we did. We ran side-by-side, increasing our pace until we crossed the finish line together. He jumped up in the air just as we crossed the finish line or we would have had the exact same time.

Thrilling. Powerful. Joyful. Emotional. My daughters were watching and cheering. My family hugged me. Terry called me his hero. My parents were proud.

My runner friend rang the bell to signal his completion of the race. I rang the bell, and then rang it again and again. I wanted to make up for 2014 and any race I could have run in between.

I felt wonderful after the race. I was ready to keep going. “I can run a 50-miler,” I told my husband.

In the car, Terry handed me my other red glove. “Another runner gave it to me at one of the aid stations. He picked it up when you dropped it on the trail.” Back at my parents’ house, my mom gave me a turquoise glove, “you left this in the car before the race.” So, I only lost one glove on the trail, a turquoise glove at the beginning.

I set new running goals immediately because everything felt different. I wasn’t as sore as I’d been during my training runs. I was aware of my shortcomings–too much multitasking and too many negative thoughts about my ability. After the 50km, I felt more alert and positive about running races than I had been in years. I was renewed. I set my sights on a 50-mile race in May.

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Notes: I could have gotten the order of some things mixed up. After twenty miles, I can’t exactly remember where a thought and/or conversation took place every time, but I try to get close and recount what mattered.

Also, this was my horoscope from Rob Brezsny the Tuesday following the race:
GEMINI (May 21-June 20): Danish scientist and poet Piet Hein wrote this melancholy meditation: “Losing one glove is painful, but nothing compared to the pain of losing one, throwing away the other, and finding the first one again.” Let his words serve as a helpful warning to you, Gemini. If you lose one of your gloves, don’t immediately get rid of the second. Rather, be patient and await the eventual reappearance of the first. The same principle applies to other things that might temporarily go missing.
FREE WILL ASTROLOGY
Week beginning December 13
Copyright 2018 by Rob Brezsny
http://www.freewillastrology.com/horoscopes/
Grammar key: Asterisks equal *italics*
Rob Brezsny is amazing–check him out. His expanded audio horoscopes are even more eerily accurate.

Playlist In-Part (the Highs and Lows):
Warning: Some of these songs obviously contain explicit lyrics, and the videos could be as well if you choose to look them up…
“Finally Moving” by Pretty Lights
“Down” by Marian Hill
“Waiting too Long” by Hippie Sabotage
“Go F*ck Yourself” by Two Feet
“Tearing Me Up” by Bob Moses
“Little Wing” by Jimi Hendrix
“River” by Bishop Briggs
“Just Jammin'” by Gramatik
“Stolen Dance” by Milky Chance
“Halfway Home” by DJ Shadow
“Gold” by Chet Faker
“Feeling Good” Bassnectar Remix of Nina Simone
“Loving It” by Marian Hill
“Way Down We Go” by Kaleo
“Sure Thing” by St. Germain feat. John Lee Hooker
“Flashed Junk Mind” by Milky Chance
“Faded” by Zhu
“Leftover” by Dennis Lloyd
“Brighter” by Rufus Du Sol
“Hear My Train A-Comin'” by Jimi Hendrix
“Solo Sunrise” by Chet Faker
“Drop the Game” by Flume and Chet Faker
“Telemetron” by Hexstatic
“Easy Thing to Do” by Shirley Bassey; Nightmares on Wax mix
“Who Knows” by Jimi Hendrix

On Textures, Trails, & Timing

The river trails lured me when I first looked out the window yesterday morning. Everything was covered in dew drops and shimmered as we moved toward the rays of the sun. The dewy blanket revealed the textures of each flower gone to seed, the velvety puffs and cushions of wildflowers, the spiky anchors of grasses, the spinning parachutes of weeds…

The sun rose over the hillside and illumined the spider webs that now looked vacant after a busy night under the full moon. The webs covered the grasses, flowers, weeds, and almost everything in the field, as if the spiders had cast nets to catch the frost.

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I’m a slow runner. I plod along for a half marathon; Monday’s average pace was 12:45 a mile. Of course, that included bathroom breaks, videos of deer, photos of deer a few times, tying my shoes, and trudging up some big hills over and over and over again (total elevation gain of just over 6,000ft). Still, I’m slow at running, and I know it. I take my time and enjoy the space. I notice a million tiny things that I want to stoop and admire, photograph from different angles, try to capture the textures and shifting light. I have to lure myself forward with the promise of even more tiny delights coming out of the earth. The fossils paint stories and each footfall finds another one, images to gobble into my imagination, so I trudge still onward, quite content with the pace and space…

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The trails on the hills offer different sights and sensations than the river trails. Beside the river, I am sometimes 3 min. a mile faster on my average running time. That’s quite a difference, and the terrain and climate create an alternative momentum. The fields meet the forest by the river in a low circular formation. Sounds reverberate off the limestone bluffs and muddy edges that create the river bank. Mossy trails offer soft cushions for my feet, and squishy mud through the small forest is equally inviting for quick progress.

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Landscapes and their textures remind me of human bodies. Or, vice versa. Form and texture create layers for both movement and the imprint of previous motion. Taking time to pause and express a form with my own body, my motion suspends for a moment—the running stalls, breath softens, body lengthens, bends, relaxes. My favorite mat has always been the earth, and my yoga mat is so dirty from practicing outside that taking it into a studio seems hilarious when placed next to the pristine and often expensive yoga mats of other practitioners. The leafy or mossy ground is a great cushion for arm balances. The drishti of tree branches, leaves, and flowers forever blooms into new gazes, new focus, and the change of nature is the meditation, staying there patterns the breath, loosens the love, even as I move again.
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Pausing to practice, to center in meditation again as I stretch, I catch glimpses of the red-shouldered hawks, a great blue heron, a cardinal, the wren making a fuss about my presence, the singing of crickets in a loud chorus that I hadn’t previously noticed, the splash of a big fish in the river, a turtle sliding into the water’s edge and the cloudy silt fluttering up to the surface for the moment and settling again.

Playfulness is Mindfulness is Enchantment

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I play every day. I like unstructured play–no particular rules or strategies, nothing to win or lose, no set goal except to play and see what happens and allow my playfulness to evolve. Play = motion + discovery, for me. Summer always reminds me again & offers a chance to regain any playfulness I’ve lost or forgotten.

The forest is an essential playmate since it’s always changing, yet always there. Not only does it change for the seasonal shifts, but changes happen every day in the forest to offer a different type of play. As if a hot blanket were thrown over me during humid days, I stumble and fall and wrestle with the trails until I’m a puddle of sweat. I’m reminded of wrestling with my brother as a child, of trying to slip away and falling in spite of thinking I had the advantage.
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Slipping on shiny stones and splashing up the mud, I dance out a rhythm and partner perfectly with the bird song and drumming of the branches. I’m reminded of dancing in the yard in the sunshine with wild abandon as my mother’s radio blared the Rolling Stones or Huey Lewis & the News from the windows of the house.
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The rain splashes down through the tree canopy and running is like swimming and flying and freeing all at once, like when an aunt or grandmother or some relative we begged would drive us to the pool or the lake in the summer and we lost track of time and dove and floated in the water until it felt like we swam in our sleep.

As I was running last week, two young brothers (maybe 8 and 6 years old) began following me on the trails after I passed their family. They laughed and ran behind me. They giggled and bounded, and I felt a pang of nostalgia for the trails from my childhood.

When I run in the forest, on trails, I play the most. It doesn’t feel difficult to my body when I approach it as play–jumping over roots, slowing when necessary, gaining momentum downhill and bounding through the creek, across a bridge, sometimes leaping and other times tip toeing. I get lost in this playfulness. I start writing stories in my head, making up scenarios, laughing aloud as the story plays like a movie for me. When a character does something I don’t like, I rewrite it, try another scene, another lover, give her a different bicycle to ride to work.

For me, writing and running create the perfect mixture of playfulness. The summertime intensifies the combination with enchantment.