I had one of the most epic runs of my life (so far!) this past weekend.
And one of the most terrifying moments of my running life.
All in the same day.
The Western States Training Camp is an annual 3-day bonanza of trail running out of Auburn California. It’s a practice event designed to help the runners learn the trails for the upcoming Western States Endurance Run. It’s a historic 100-mile trail race that happens the end of June. http://www.wser.org
This camp is open to non-racing runners as well. New, veteran, fast, slow — as long as you have a love for the sport and pay the registration fee; you are warmly welcomed. (Endurance run-nerds should really put this well-run, flawlessly supported camp on their bucket list.)
Spencer, Erica and I went down to run. We’re all planning big events over the next few months and this was a great ‘kick-off’ training weekend. We ran 32 miles on Saturday, 18 miles on Sunday and 22 miles on Monday. BIG miles. Training, new terrain, friends. ALL GOOD!
That’s the epic part. 🙂
Back to the terrifying part of the story.
The first morning we were bused up to Robinson Flat to start the run back to the Foresthill Elementary School. Spencer took off and ran when the buses unloaded. Erica and I took off after waiting in a long – female exclusive – line for the lone enclosed commode. We wanted one last hint of civilization. There would be plenty of time for ‘being one with nature’ the rest of the day. 🙂
So many stories I could tell about squatting in poison oak, missed turns, the beyond-annoying chatty-chick from Maryland that we all wanted to push off the nearest cliff, great micro-chats with fascinating people, snakes, active gold mines, abandoned cemeteries, botched water crossings… Blogs for another day. 🙂
We hit the last aid station at Michigan Bluff. Mile 26. Close to done. We quickly stocked up on water and food (watermelon for me, PBJ for Erica!) and took off to put a time stamp on this sucker.
We’re around mile 29 and starting to get rained on. BIG, wet drops of rain.
The weather forecast heading into the weekend had said 80 and clear. It was 55 and rainy and starting to hail. We joked about finding the weatherperson and having a ‘friendly’ conversation with them about their forecasting skills.
Bright flash of light.
We were half way between the aid station (which was a tent with METAL poles) and the finish. We’re soaked. We’re cold. We’re on a semi-exposed, raised dirt road. Trees on either side. A 3-strand barbed wire fence next to us…
Nowhere to hide.
We heard thunder again and breathed a little sigh of relief. We agreed it was moving away from us… Whew. No more lightening…
We kept moving.
Then about 15 minutes later the storm seemed to double back.
Startlingly bright flash of light and a thunder clap that we both insist was right over our heads. Loud enough you could feel it and it numbed your ear drums.
At this point we’re talking back and forth about what our best survival option is. And we’re serious. We’re both nervous and not liking our situation and trying to figure out how to a) not freak the other one out and b) seriously get our butts off the exposed hill and down to the school. Alive.
We kept moving toward the school with the agreement that if it happened again we would stop to wait out the storm and make ourselves the smallest of possible targets away from big trees/obvious lightening rods.
We had a plan. And that’s about the point when the hill crested and we were finally winding down off of the hill…
Slight sidebar in the story; on the descent with rain/thunder/lightening in the distance and moving away, we came upon a fellow trail runner essentially hugging a tree (WRONG THING TO DO!). She said she was too scared to go on. Erica gently convinced her to get AWAY from the tree. The runner asked to follow us down the trail. We kept moving. (In a karmic/comedic twist; the runner happens to be the beyond-annoying chatty-chick that we wanted to push off of several earlier cliffs… WHOLE other story. Longest. Mile. Ever. Thankful my hearing was temporarily impaired from the thunder. Small blessing.)
We finally reached the forest gate and were about to hit paved road to head to the school. Several cars were there at the trail; checking on runners they knew had to be up on the hill. One of the cars pulling up was Spencer. He made sure we were OK and said ‘you guys want to get in the car or do you want to finish this thing?’
‘Finish the run.’
This entire sport, the endurance world, is about learning about and testing your limits and strengths and boundaries. And then finding the mental fortitude to fight beyond all of your tiredness and fears and the other BS your brain creates to try to make you stop. We aren’t just training to run; we’re training to make our minds tougher. Pushing through the hard, ugly, imperfect stuff creates confidence and strength. It help you understand and believe that just about anything is possible if you work hard enough, fight long enough. It’s what I LOVE about this sport. You don’t have to be fast or elegant or naturally talented or have a ton of money or have a certain body type. You just have to be tough and persistent.
As we were briefly checking in with Spencer, I realized I was starting to shake from having been scared. I KNEW that I didn’t want this to be the ending to this epic running adventure. Come within a mile of the finish line and because something unexpected had happened, I QUIT short of the goal and jump in the warm car?
I did not want that narrative in my head. I wanted to know I could keep on going even though I was scared and exhausted and cold. It was something really important that I just had to finish. All of that went through my head.
I don’t have a clue what I actually said out loud.
Erica and I started heading toward the school and she simply said ‘This is where our real training begins. Let’s run to the school.’
We shuffled, jogged, hiked, ran our way back to that finish area and straight into the nearest porta potties. (Priorities. 🙂 )
And then right into the warm car. 🙂
We ran 32 miles in 8 hours and 36 minutes.
It was a beautiful, happy, memorable day of running.
Day one of the Western States Training Camp was in the books.