This week is my third anniversary of ultrarunning; my first long run was the Rodeo Beach 50K on Dec. 18, 2010. Three years ... time does fly. I think back to what running was like for me then; I can say with confidence that it hurts a whole lot less than it used to. I never got much faster, but then again speed is never something I've sought. Naturally awkward non-runners forcing their bodies into loping movements can only lope faster with lots of focus and specific work. And the risks of speed are — in my opinion — too high. In cycling, there's a popular mantra for choosing a bicycle: Light, Strong, and Cheap — Pick Two. When deciding what kind of runner to be, I'm pretty sure it's: Fast, Long, and Forever — Pick Two. Fast, of course, meaning fast relative to your individual ability. It must be obvious that I'd choose long and forever. My ultimate goal would be to develop an efficient "forever" pace, a pace that maximized distance and minimized body breakdown, and was still challenging and enjoyable. I'll probably search for this ability as long as I'm a runner without finding it, but the process itself is fun.
On Saturday, Ann invited me to join her and a few of her friends on an adventure run from Point Reyes to the Golden Gate Bridge, essentially traversing the length of the Marin Headlands in one 30-ish-mile, point-to-point run. I was signed up for a 50K trail race on Sunday, but thought, "Two back-to-back ultras — every single day of the Iditarod is going to be harder than any 50K, so I could use the training."
There wasn't any lightning, but there was sleet and ice. We scrambled up this steep slope while the ground oozed out from underneath us, only to arrive at a shale headwall near the top of the pass. We split off to search for a viable way to climb the cliffs. At one point Ana was near the bottom of a small sub-ridge, Giorgio was at the top, and I was clinging to a wall off to the side screaming that there was no way to climb up to the pass from there, but my teammates couldn't hear me and kept looking for a way to climb toward me. Finally I gestured enough that they continued climbing the ridge, and I ended up leaping a veritable slide of smooth, wet shale, and then tried to scramble up the grassy side of the gully. The gully steepened and narrowed until I was back on rock, and I was nearly to a ledge on the ridge when I realized that my feet were balancing on tiny pebbles atop wet shale — like wearing roller skates while climbing a slide. My handholds were not secure; if I moved at all I would probably slip and who knows how far I'd go careening down that chute before I stopped? I was filled with such a deep, impenetrable dread that my vision went black for a moment. Just then, a guy from another team came scooting along the ledge, and I reached out my right hand toward his feet and said, "Please, please help me."
I don't think he understood English, but he reached down and grabbed my wrist, and as soon as he did my shoes slipped and all of my weight shifted to the arm he held as my body lurched backward. He kept the grip; he didn't let me fall. I'm still not sure what would have happened if he did lose his grip or if he wasn't there. After he pulled me up, I had a strong sense that this guy saved me from grave injury. I placed my hands on his shoulders and said "Thank you. Thank you so much." I wanted to hug him and start bawling, but I did not want to be revealed as the hysterical chick in the PTL, and it was still early enough in the race that I was capable of controlling my emotions. I never found out who he was, never properly thanked him. I'm not sure I've told this part of the Col de l'Oulettaz story yet, because I was very traumatized by that particular moment in a way that I actively tried to shut it out of my mind. But it all came flooding back in vivid detail today. Damn, I hated the PTL. But at least, because of it, nothing else seems so hard anymore. Except, of course, the Iditarod.
But it was a fun weekend, and not too depleting. A little too fast for any "forever pace" approximations, but close enough to to feel a bit more confidence for the ITI.