"This is good training for Alaska," I thought, and the notion softened the knots of stress that had been building in my gut. Thoughts of Alaska, and specifically Alaska winter racing, often do. "I'm cold," I'll think, "but not nearly as cold as the time I bivied on the Farewell Burn." "I'm scared," I'll think, "but not nearly as frightened as the time I pedaled onto the hard ice of the Kuskokwim River and into that black abyss beyond." I was okay then, and I'll be okay now. It's interesting that something that happened more than five years ago still resonates so deeply, and everything I've been through since has become doable because of it, so far.
Before we set out, I decided to embrace the latter — adventure, with a dash of farce. This attitude was actually made easier by sleep deprivation and the silliness it evoked. The race organizers also contributed by insisting on busing everyone fifty feet across a river, with a goal of letting runners start the race with dry feet. It was a noble gesture, mostly lost on the fact it was raining sideways and the process with two small buses took more than half an hour — meaning everyone was soaked at the start anyways, and also chilled from standing around in the cold wind. Most agreed that crossing the river on foot would have been preferable.
The early miles of the Long March took us through the industrial infrastructure of a geothermal plant, giving the start a kind of apocalyptic feel as the fierce storm raged overhead. Beat and Dan had run ahead, so I joined a group that included two friends from Cleveland. Lee and Gabe are significantly faster runners than me — Lee actually received an unexpected and last-minute entry to the 2013 Western States race after winning a prominent 50-mile race — but had been running close to my pace in Iceland both because "backpacks are the great equalizer" and because they had come here with a goal to have fun no matter what. This attitude made them great running partners, and I made an effort to stick with them as long as I could hold on. We tore through the driving rain singing the theme from the children's show Lambchop: "This is the song that doesn't end ... yes it goes on and on my friend ... "
|Crossing the finish line of stage five. Photo from Racing the Planet.|
Stage six took us six miles over moss and rocks to the Blue Lagoon, an iconic thermal pool and luxury resort. After watching many of my fellow competitors limp around the gym all day on Friday, I was a bit shocked how fast people ran this stage. People who were barely walking at the end of stage five were busting out sub-hour 10Ks on terrain that was quite hilly and technical. I was impressed, because I can't dig that deep in the name of speed, even with the promise of a relaxing soak and a tasty sandwich at the end. But the Blue Lagoon was a great spot to finish the race. I'm glad we had a chance to go there.
Final race results are listed here. I pulled my GPS tracks into Strava, so a map of the route with a few discrepancies is posted here. I finished 13th out of 64 among women finishers and 76th out of 228 overall with a time of 40:05:21 for 250 kilometers over six stages. Beat finished in 36:56:20 and was 56th overall. I was pleased to log a decent result after running my own race, slow and steady.