Sunday, September 23, 2012

Nostalgia: A good reason to run 100 miles?

There wasn't a hint of breeze or wisp of fog on the first day of autumn, a rarity in the Marin Headlands at any time of the year. I was having the best day. It started with a sunrise drive across the Golden Gate Bridge, which led to a morning nap on Muir Beach as I listened to ocean sounds (I volunteered at the Coastal 50K, and a delayed start due to late buses meant there was some extra time to kill before the race.) After setting up the aid station I spent three hours filling water bottles, cutting up fruit, and preparing fresh peanut butter sandwiches, which I believe I make extra special by really piling on the peanut butter and jam, but leaving room around the edges to prevent stickiness. In fact, several runners complimented my sandwiches. "Thanks," I replied. "PB&J is my favorite during these races, too."

After coaxing the last runner out of Muir Beach, I set out to sweep up trail markers behind him. Last runner pace was perfect for me, and I marched cheerily up the Coastal Trail, pulling pink ribbons off branches as waves crashed against the cliffs below. My legs still had that strange empty feeling, but I didn't have to think about that, not this day. I reached a crest of the Miwok Trail that I recognized from my own first 50K run, nearly two years ago (and also remarkable, I thought, that it hasn't even been two years yet.) Pausing for a minute, I looked toward the hills of Sausalito and soaked in the intoxicating fusion of immediate happiness and warm nostalgia. It was a good moment. A smile-without-meaning-to-smile moment. A moment that was too quickly washed away by my empty legs' stern reminder of why I was there in the first place, logging some last-minute volunteer work at the Coastal 50K.

Stylin' during the 2010 Bear 100, somewhere much too far above Bear Lake. Not pictured: Hurty feet. 
It's my and Beat's favorite story to tell to anyone who asks how we got together — the story of a boy and a girl who met as a runner and a volunteer at a 100-mile race in Montana, became Internet friends, and proceeded to dare each other into the most convoluted meeting ever. The story of our first date. Boy had just completed the first running of the grueling Tor des Geants less than a week earlier. Girl was a cyclist who could still count her running-days-per-year on one hand. Girl was working long hours in Las Vegas for Interbike, slowing losing her mind amid the chaotic deluge of it all, when boy called her and said, "I'm still going to the Bear 100. You should come out to Utah and pace me."

Girl was not a runner, but she almost never says no to an adventure, especially with a Swiss cutie who appears to genuinely like doing these kinds of things for fun. She found a friend who was driving from Los Angeles to Salt Lake, hitched a ride to her parents' house, stole their truck without their permission while they were on vacation in Germany, borrowed a bunch of halfway workable "running" clothes from their closet, and drove to Logan. She arrived at the mile fifty aid station still wearing jeans and eating a large sandwich for dinner, expecting to wait for boy and then form a plan for much later in the race — only to have him show up less than five minutes later, look at her with his piercing brown eyes and ask, without a hint of sarcasm, "So, are you running?"

It's the story of how I unintentionally ran fifty miles with no training in cotton yoga pants and rhinestone-bedazzled sunglasses. Of how Beat's blistered feet hurt so much that he would occasionally scream Swiss-German swear words without a hint of comedy. Of how we went all through the night talking about bicycle touring and quantum physics, losing the trail, climbing above the trees and turning our headlamps off to look at the stars, collectively willing ourselves to run faster when the temperature dropped to 21 degrees, going until my own feet hurt so bad that every footfall caused me to wince, and then Beat refused to continue at his own pace in a race that was his race, just so he could help me hobble through the last ten excruciatingly slow miles. Afterward, we had several hours to kill before we could catch a bus ride back to the start, so we made out in the grass at a tiny park in Fish Haven, Idaho. It was seriously the best first date ever.

Beat during the 2010 Bear 100. So adorable.
After finishing the shortened version of Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc last month, I wasn't shy about voicing my disappointment that I had missed out on the "full" hundred experience. A hundred hard miles was something I trained for during the summer and arrived in Europe at least mentally ready to tackle the challenge, if not physically as well. But because I was so open about my disappointment, one thing led to another and I ended up registered for the 2012 Bear 100, which starts in Logan on Friday, Sept. 28, at 6 a.m. The Bear 100 sounded like a great idea when I was fast-recovered from UTMB and running mellow trails in Germany, but then I went to Italy and binged and binged on mountains, didn't sleep or eat well, and returned to the U.S. with empty legs and dread renewed.

However, I did recruit my friend Danni to pace me in the Bear 100, so I can't back down now. We had a great time last year during the Slickrock 100, when she was the runner and I was the pacer. So I have that to look forward to. Despite my current fatigue, I do feel I was in good shape for UTMB; not that much can have changed in a month. Also, I was similarly tired right before the Stagecoach 400, and while I can't deny that I felt fairly shattered for much of that 3.5-day mountain bike race, I did finish the thing. After the first twenty (steep!) miles of the Bear 100, my legs would probably feel dead either way. So really, starting with empty legs is just giving up a relatively small head start in a race like this. And the truth is, I'd really love a shot to try to finish a summer 100-mile trail race. Although UTMB was beyond my control, there is this sense of disappointment that I'm now 0-for-2, despite a 2-for-2 record in winter 100-milers. Is there a good chance I'll be 0-for-3 after the Bear? Well, yes, but the most memorable adventures for me are the usually the most outlandish ones. I'm excited.

And it's true I'm a nostalgic person by nature; more than anything, I'm anticipating a visit to the beautiful locations of a few of my favorite memories. During the 2010 Bear 100, Beat stopped me at a high point under the stars and handed me a rock that he found on a high mountain pass in Italy. He carried through the Tor des Geants and now the Bear 100, and gave it to me as he nervously asked whether I was interested in "dating" even though he lived in California and I lived in Montana. I (now famously) replied "sure" with a shrug, and we left it at that for a while. You can bet that I'll be pressing forward on Friday in anticipation of reaching that spot, and also likely carrying that rock with me as well, for good luck.

As Helen Keller wrote — life is a daring adventure, or nothing.