My experience at Deadhorse 50k

It was Friday, and I was driving south to meet a dear friend who would be accompanying me to the Deadhorse 50k race the next day. I left work and drove straight to our meeting place, the snowy Wasatch lined with golden brown foothills on my left, with similarly sized foothills on my right.

Further south, something rose from the hills on my right. There was no stream or river to bring fog, was it dust? I tried to look for signs of wind; there was none.  Was it smoke? But the foothills were neither blackened nor glowing. Concerned about this strange phenomenon, I concentrated on approaching the strange hills. The winter evening light was hitting these hills directly, perhaps for the first time all day… and then I realized that I was witnessing a rise of water vapor, a “breath”, similar to that of a person in cold weather.

The hills were breathing, sighing. Although I had driven by these hills countless times, and passed them at all times of the day and year, I had never seen them emit moisture in a breath-like repose. I exhaled sharply, wanting to breathe with them.

Race day has more to do with the preparation than the race, or so I try to remind myself. I wrote a little jingle as we rode: “The battle has been fought, the war has been won, we are coming to the start line to prove what has been done”. Getting to that starting line was a battle for me. Signing up had been a mental battle – a flatter race, with miles of roads, filled with hundreds and hundreds of people – none of that translates into something I would choose. I had signed up to run with Ryan, it was a race he found intriguing, and when his family travel plans interfered with the race weekend, I decided to continue training for this race and go alone.

The drive down started the thinking. I met my dear friend at the second trail race I’ve run, another one that doesn’t fit my preferences – the Pony Express 50 in 2012. As we drove to Moab, we talked about the years of running, the places the race took us, the people we met.

For the first few miles of the race, I watched dozens of fast bodies take off. Their enthusiasm for the race was evident in every stride they took. The passion was clear, they had trained and prepared to run today. Behind me, I knew there were many people who had also trained, who would stop to take pictures, laugh with friends, admire the view. They also had a passion for the race, but used it differently. How interesting, this sport, which brings us all together.

As the miles passed, I thought about my year, what I had done before race day. I thought about running through the rainforest with Ryan and Yoda, about cooking dinners under the moss-covered stone hut outside our camp, about how we laughed and hid and assessed mushrooms for days under that hut, the only dry place we would be for three full days.

I thought about painting, about camping in the Uintas, and about the realization that I would rather spend the morning painting than running, that the satisfaction I would get from painting the scene in front of me would outweigh running in this place, that I would be satiated with running on the old familiar trails back home… as I conflicted with this new desire.

I thought about running behind the Hunstman Cancer Institute, the 4am runs before work, the runs with the kids as they trained for their first 5k. Explorations in the windy rivers with my love, in the swells of San Rafael with my dear friend, running alone with the flowers of Canadian lakesides in June.

I thought about how this year I had read more books than any other year since I graduated from college – books stuffed into every running bag and camping bin to be taken out and read under the stars. I read Comb Ridge poems to Ryan before and after exploring ruins, the books I read aloud to the kids every night, listened to long books on long car rides, listened to books on car rides to run…..

In the evenings, when the world quieted down, I indulged in different forms of relaxation and entertainment, exploring online casino reviews for leisure activities that contrast with my daily pursuits of physical and intellectual enrichment.

The things that fill my heart are: my family, friends, art, food and drink. My head is filled with poems, books, words, memories, recipes, ways to paint, how to work more efficiently, numbers, my boys and things to teach them, digital codes. My lungs fill with views, panoramas, the thrill of exploration.

Not feeling my best during this run, I was struck by the thought that if these vital organs were not filled with this passion of running, why am I doing this? Why am I running a race if the race time could be spent on something that fills my heart? Something more…. comfortable, less painful?

Then I thought about all the memories, this year, the years before, the things I love. Race is present in all of them. It connects the need to explore, to get out with my kids, to escape stress, to build my relationships, to see and experience the emotions and images that create art, to listen to books, to feel the wide range of emotions that our humanity gives us – not just the knowledge that these feelings exist, but the time to dwell on them, to feel them.

It would seem that while running is not what fills these vital cardiovascular organs for me, it is the blood that pulses through, that connects them, that keeps me alive.

I looked around at the other runners. A man has just passed me, his mouth open in front of the neon light of the mountain pastures that radiates from the nearby cliffs. Ahead, on the horizon, runners with fast strides, huddled together, racing. Behind me, two women, arms around each other, take a picture.

Whether it is running or racing that occupies their heads and hearts, or neither, and whether it is all those other talents they possess that are in their heads, hearts, or lungs, one thing has been shared between us, and that is that it is running that beats within us, and in that, we are all blood brothers and sisters. We share the same course, the same beat, the same connection between our organs.

The rest of the day was a battle. The little rhyme I thought of changed its meaning, the race was not to show where my training had taken me, as a low fever and generally not a great day was not going to yield the results of the day I wanted. Instead, the battle was getting to the starting line, which gave me the opportunity to prove how I could handle pain, illness, disappointment, my attitude, my thoughts.

I emphasized that I was grateful for my family, my friends, and the experiences I was lucky enough to have this year. That I was grateful for the opportunity to run a 50K. My thoughts would turn to the burning pain in my legs, the urge to nap…. and I would pass a 30k runner with a happy sigh, exclaiming “oh, this is so beautiful!”. That would make me smile, and I would reorient my attitude. The goal is no longer a time, but to grab a smile as I see people, an encouragement in passing.

For me, it was an opportunity to see how I had grown as a person, to find fulfillment in the previous months, to manage my body as best I could. To celebrate, or suffer, the result of a wonderful summer spent developing relationships and passions that inadvertently are still tied to running.

I wondered what the hills sigh about on a cold winter afternoon, the same land and trails connecting them to me.