††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† The Ramblings of a Halfway Point Junkie
The Arrowhead 135 gives a racer plenty of time alone to contemplate their reasons to be there.† My reasons were not to win or even to be that great hero my father always says that I am.† I was there† to enjoy the beauty that was to be found in my surroundings.† Along with some needed time to reflect on the joys from years so long ago.† What better place to be a child again while taking a playful walk through the woods.
Donít get the wrong impression, I still suffered from pre-race anxiety.† I just wanted the race to begin.† All of the planning that must be given to this event is overwhelming.† The knowledge that completing this task was not a definite for me, left me with a looming fear of failure.† You simply canít go into an event this big with doubts, so I trained hard and was very confident with all my equipment.† No matter how it played out, I was ready to be in the woods alone and knowing how to take care of myself.† I prepped my brain to be positive and to know the turtle was my friend.† All my training ďwalksĒ were slow but a constant movement forward.† I could surely achieve the ďMyrtle Turtle AwardĒ this year.
Beginning shortly after sunrise the temperature was cool.† I dressed a little lighter than what would be comfortable knowing that daylight would warm the air soon.† So right off the bat my pace had to be a little quicker than normal.† I even had to do a couple of 20 second jogs to get the blood flowing.† This was all part of the plan I told myself, donít let it bother you... you are the turtle.
On reaching the first shelter, which is the turn around for the out and back, I had settled comfortably into my turtle pace.† Being a female I have an added complication that my all male co-racers do not experience.† But I know that if you step off the trail to take a potty break you will be thigh deep in snow.† So staying true to Pierreís request not to leave remnants of yellow tracks all along the course, I discretely duck behind the shelter for a little girl moment.† This will be one of the many times that I find myself holding out longer than I wish for the sight of a shelter.† Hydration is important and I canít let this be a reason to curb my continual sips of fluids.† I also should not get upset seeing so many fellas easily relieving themselves right on trail.† So I decide instead to keep my mind on happy thoughts and always be vigilant for an area that may be a good spot for a gal on trail.
The trail is so very beautiful due to freshly fallen snow.† Last night I felt a little angst knowing that this light fluffy couple of inches would make traveling difficult today.† Now all I can think about is how lucky I am to be out in this spectacular winter wonderland.† The trail is a brilliant white and the conifers have precious white fur coatings on this morning.† The crispness from the chill in the air made everything feel sharp and the snow made it all look soft.† This is a sensation that can only be known after a cold front escorts a warm front out.
Who believes the weatherman when his forecast changes hourly?† Well on this day I was acting like I knew what was in store for the evening to come.† We were in for a cool down and I knew it.† I was excited knowing that I would walk through the chilly night.† Thereís not many things that are more magical than an evening stroll through the woods.
Throughout the day I had been bringing up the back with possibly two or three trailing behind.† There was a good chance my turtle pace was going to leave me the last racer on trail throughout the evening.† Though I was thankful to see that I had another racer with the turtle mentality on course looking very strong.† Overall Tim Roe had a similar pace, his step was slightly faster than mine.†† Though he had to stop to take quick sips from his water bottle without spilling.† I had rigged up a camelback with a heavily insulated hose.† So I never stopped, just kept on moving while I drank easily from my main water source.† We rarely could walk side by side, when we did I found him to be a friendly racer with a positive attitude.† All of the makings of a great fella to have on trail.† Even when I could not see him I found comfort just knowing he was not too far away.
As the day played out I was thinking how fortunate I was.† This is such a very special event that is so well organized.† I have my head on straight, not letting other racers influence my pace and thoughts.† My spirits are high and it really is a beautiful day to be alive.† I can not believe I ever had thoughts of not showing up at the start.† Missing out on this would have been a tragedy in my head for the year to come.† I am lucky to be here!
A slight chill breaks through my thoughts.† As I pull the hood up over my head I think it must be near 4pm.†† The curiosity is too much, I must peek at the watch... 3:58pm the evening cool down is just beginning.† I am in tune with my environment, I do a little dance step for I am elated with myself.† Thinking how splendid it is being outside to experience the change of day.† I wonder if there is any other racer out there dancing it up with a grin ear to ear.† I certainly hope so!
To my surprise I start to see several flashing lights ahead of me.† How could I possibly be seeing other racers on the course?† Were they there all along without me acknowledging them?† They flew by me so quickly early on in the race.† Could this be the case of the turtle and the hare?† Together with a few other racers I am now to the Gateway Store and it is 6:35pm.†
I was ahead of my estimated schedule, not that I was really holding to any schedule.† I just knew my usual pace for this distance.† I figured I would arrive after 7pm and stay for 1 hour.† Enough time to eat lots of hot food, restock my water, and dress into my evening clothes before the night chill took over.† The store attendants were more than wonderful.† Lots of big smiles and cheering when I arrived.† I am the only woman on course and they were rooting for me.† I wanted that finish line more than anything, simply could not let all those fabulous gals down.† I felt good and was once again reminded how lucky I was to be there.
Leaving the store at 7:40pm (still on this imaginary schedule), several other racers head out with me.† Iím thrilled to be moving forward into the night tucked away in my cozy warm clothes.† Only problem was I actually overdressed for the temp outside.† I had to walk real slow to avoid any sweating.† This simply was not going to work well for me.† I needed to do the dreadful stop and remove clothing in the chill of the outdoors.† I did not want to take off the boots to get to the pants.† So I layered down much more on top while keeping the legs warmer than usual.† I wasnít too sure that this method would work since I had never tried this before.† Iím a true believer in keeping the core warm and the body fueled.† The volunteers told me it would get below -20 degrees tonight.† So I figured I would need to make another adjustment in a few hours as the temps continually drop throughout the night.† At least next time I will just layer on rather than stand and take off.... Brrr!† I need to do a little 20 second jog to get the blood flowing.† Ahhh, there comes the feeling again.
All the racers who had left the Gateway at the same time are now out of sight by a minimum of 15 minutes.† And They all have a faster pace than I.† It is time for me to get accustomed to being out here all alone in my head.† Which does not prove to be difficult at all.† The night is lovely, quiet and so very still.† Iím sure not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse (all except for those silly racers of course).†† Once again I set my thoughts to wonderful times of childhood days playing in a winter wonderland.† The days when the Twin Cities actually had snow storms that would be waist deep (yeah, yeah, I know I was not as tall then).† My sisters and I would have snowball fights.† My father would demand we change from our school clothes to our play clothes, all the while he was plotting his strategy on how to grab us and drop us in a snowbank of freshly fallen snow.† The screams and laughter of 4 little girls with their father will keep me awake all night long tonight.
Ah, what is that I see?† Blinking lights off in the distance, I have myself a racer in sight.† Iím not out here alone afterall.† Well that is not going to take me away from my playful thoughts.† This is working for me and Iím going to keep my mind where it needs to be.† He is looking for the shelter, which I inform him is off the main trail and could be hard to locate.† So when I do spot the shelter I decide to leave my sled near the trail leading towards it while I run over to use the biffy.† My flashing lights will definitely get his attention and he will then see the shelter.† There is a campfire smell in the air and I think I shall take a moment to say hi to my fellow racers.† But to my surprise theyíre all asleep, nestled all snug in their beds.†† I start a quick count and stop after reaching 6... and there are more.† I need to get a move on it before my brain starts saying this is a good spot for a nap.†
Out I go back on trail again.† Whew, that could have been a close one, lucky I kept it to less than 10 minutes.† Since Iím back to reality for a moment I should do an overall check.† How is the temp, am I dressed properly, where are the pains, how is the fuel intake coming along.† Everything is in check as expected to be by this distance.† A little dance in my step again... Iím doing well.† A big smile and onto happy memories to propel me forward.† I got this down, I may not be fast but I know what it takes... just keep at it.
Now I have this realization that the Myrtle the Turtle Award is no longer mine to cling to.† I am going through the night slow as a turtle.† But most likely many of those racers will be to Melgeorges after me and then later pass me on course.† Oh well, it is just a silly award that would be fun to acquire.†† Winning the turtle and getting to the finish line would be so perfect to me.† It was not meant to be... anyways the award had changed this year to The Lone Wolf (and Iím not a wolf).†† Iíll just keep my focus on getting to the finish line in 60 hours.† So I let my mind drift back to my childís play and continue on as the turtle that I am.
I am fortunate once again to be somewhat near Tim.† It is pleasant to be passing him back and forth throughout the night.† I like his race style and try to spot any new tricks he can teach me.† He will become a hero in my eyes throughout the days to come.† He informs me that he will be napping at the BlackDuck shelter.† As we near it I start to wonder if I should follow his lead.† Then I remember this is my race and I need to keep moving.† The down jacket slips on for the 30 minutes Iím taking at this shelter.† I refill my camelback, eat some hot food, and down a coke that I had been keeping warm.†† At one point I thought about how warm and cozy I was and that I could actually get a couple of winks without even getting into my bag.† Ding Ding Ding...Big warning alarms go off in my head.† That could be a fatal mistake.† Do not ever think that falling asleep in -20 temps without being in a warm bag could be a plausible situation.† I know you have to be on top of your game and not let these stupid ideas sneak up on you.† My choices are get a move on it or get in the bag now.
Off I go rambling down the trail.† I did not get too far along before I saw Todd, a volunteer traveling the course by snowmobile.† He is like an angel in the night, always bringing a big smile that you see in his eyes and asking a few questions to check on your your state of mind.† All throughout the night I see him bringing in exhausted racers.† At one point I start to think why so many could be in such trouble.† For I know these are the racers that must have been sleeping in comfy warm bags as I had traveled throughout the night.† Keep in mind, this race can be anything you decide it to be, that is if you use your head wisely.† But if you make one poor decision about fuel intake, exertion output, or temperature regulation you just may find yourself abandoning the race.† I remind myself not to pass judgement unless I am in their shoes.† I have been traveling at a slow manageable pace that makes monitoring all vitals a simple task.† I would like to think that I am having a safe race and not putting myself out there in dangers way.
Todd stops to tell me that the Brazilian is 5 minutes ahead and trying to melt snow.† My thoughts are donít push the pace take it easy.† Though in front of me stands a steep hill begging for a little effort.† So I unzip the jacket to avoid sweating as I climb, Iím sensing a change in the evening sky.† It Ďs plenty dark and has the calmness of night all around.† But there is something... I just sense it deep down inside me.† Aha, could it be the moment before dawn?† I get excited to steal a peek at the watch... Yes, I did it again... 6:32am.† The sun will be rising soon.† Iím doing my little dance while climbing the hill.† Yeah, I got the groove and Iím giving myself a little pat on the back.† I feel good!† Iím halfway up the monster hill with a big smile on my face.† My brain has blocked out any pains that I may feel.† Iím happy to be right here in this exact moment in time.†
Wait, oh no.... I feel a sudden jerk and Iím sliding a bit down the hill.† My sled has unhitched from one side and it yanks me as it swings back.† Well this is definitely my fault for getting to cocky with my two step dance.† I grab the unleashed pole and continue up the hill to reattach on level ground.
Perhaps the sled mishap had nothing to do with the dance.† It more likely had something to do with the fun down hill descents I had been indulging in.† I just could not pass up having a sled and a descent in front of me.† I had taken to sliding down several of the larger hills.† Iím sure it did not waste anymore time.† But it did not seem to gain anything either.† The unhitching and hitching up of the harness along with getting on and off the sled took more time than one would think.† So why even do it?† Because it was fun.† The memory of going sledding as a child was too much to pass up.† The gleeful screams of my sisters as my father navigated us safely onto the pond at Powderhorn Park.† How could I pass up my chance to play?
By the time I reattach the sled properly to my harness dawn has broken through the stillness of the sky.† The birds are chirping and I can stash away my headlamp.† I am on the move again but my pace still seems to be in my nighttime mode.†† With the sun in the sky my body should be flipping over to daylight energy output.† Something is wrong... I better get some fluids and food in me.† That doesnít seem to be the problem so I start addressing other issues.† What about my aches and pains.† Ouch, I think I found the slow down.† My left foot is not in a good way, I had torn the Achilles two years ago and it is screaming at me now.† Well I know it is not torn because Iím walking, I should tape it before leaving Melgeorges.
The Brazilian and his camera crew are just ahead. †He never got any snow melted and is in trouble with all his fluids frozen solid.† I offer him a slushy nalgene of water, knowing I had just filled my camelback full, I had plenty of water to share.† He does not look so great and he really needs to rehydrate and refuel.† I limp along with thoughts of the pain meds I have in my first aid kit.† I donít want to take anything real strong until I know Melgeorges is a little closer.† I pass another fella and have about three miles to go.† Okay, this is a good situation, time to pop the pills.† I have two racers behind me and a camera crew on a snowmobile,† I see a racer ahead and Melgeorges is about an hour out.† Even if something goes funny with my reaction to the pills I have a safety net all around.† Ahhh, they seem to be working and my mind is not swampy from the mix of† sleep deprivation, fatigue and narcotics.
On the ice of Elephant Lake I hear a familiar voice.† My buddy Jeremy Kershaw is doing his first ultra event ever.† He is skiing and I have a hard time believing he would be behind me (is this a hallucination?).† We chit chat for a few minutes checking on each other and making sure everything is going well.† He caught some winks at the BlackDuck shelter.† When I was there I did not realize it was him sleeping off to the side.† He is excited to get into the resort and give his wife a call.† I tell him to ski away and take care of business Iíll be right behind him.† He must of stopped at the lodge to use the phone because I managed to check in before him.
When he arrives I donít want him to know the extent of my injury.† It is obvious I have some pain but he doesnít need to have doubts about me making it to the finish with the Achilles in this state.† We both decide to take a couple hours rest.† I need to let the Vicadin pass through my blood to re-access how bad the injury really is.† Unable to sleep I decide to refuel with all the offerings the volunteers are providing.† Then I hobble upstairs to lie down with the hopes of getting the legs up in the air for a bit.† The pain is making me jump and I find it hard to relax.† So I head downstairs to find Kevin the EMT volunteer, who does a fabulous job at taping the foot.† He also warns me of possibly doing more injury if I decide to go on.† But never once, to his credit, does he tell me to quit.† I love the volunteers they are there with only one purpose and that is to help you without giving any limitations.† Thanks to you all... you are absolutely the best!
Jeremy hits the trail which pleases me greatly.† He is going to get this thing done and I know he will be safe.† He always uses good judgment in the woods and he is one fit fella.† I head out about 15 minutes behind him along with the camera crew and their star racers.† All I want is a chance to get up the trail by myself and to take a solitary moment to think about what Iím doing here.† How bad is the Achilles and can I find a gait to stride through on?† With Melgeorges two miles behind me I know if I turn around now I will not have to ask the volunteers to evacuate me from the trail.† But the chances are if I continue on I will be one of the many taking a rescue from the snowmobile.† I do not want to put myself or them in that situation.† So I choose to return on my own two feet.
It is hard to believe that I am not disappointed in my race.† Instead I am very grateful that I put myself out there to enjoy the experience that I had. With the trail being such a magical place for me, walking was the right way to go.† Yes it is slow, but you get all that time to enjoy your surroundings, which is well worth it.† Biking may be my best bet at completing this event on time.† But next year it may be a slow classical ski.† If Iím out there and enjoying myself the finish line is the goal but the journey is more important.
I am proud to say that Jeremy Kershaw and Tim Roe both arrived at the finish with time to spare.† I have myself two new heroes who got the job done.† Iím proud of Jeremy for being tough enough to accomplish a very difficult ultra event.† He has the fortitude of mind, spirit, and body with the patience to slow it down when need be.† Tim is my every vision of the turtle I wanted to be.† Thank you for letting me get a glimpse of success at a blistering race pace.† I hope he knows that is the truest compliment coming from me.†
Thanks Pierre and Cheryl.† This event keeps me playing throughout the cold winter months.† What could be better than that?† Stay warm and enjoy your surroundings.