“I’m just here to see what it takes,” he says, the look of disbelief spilling into the tone of his voice.
I’ve completed four one hundred mile races and I’m still not sure how to answer that statement. What does it take?
It takes friends. That I have learned. I have completed four one hundred mile races. I’ve not completed two. The difference? For the latter two, I had no support. No one cheering for me. No concerned looks. No one to distract me. No one to tell me how great I looked, no matter how painful the lie.
The person making the statement is Dave, a brothers-in-law of my co-worker slash friend, Linda-with-an-I. She and my friend slash massage therapist, Jackie, have joined me in Zion. I’m there to see if I can reach 4 of 6 instead of only half the one hundreds I’ve started. Dave joined because he had never heard of such insanity and had to see how it’s done. He was going to find out.
The location of this event is in Virgin, UT, just outside of Zion National Park. I’m sure there are a lot of cheap jokes that can be made at these names, but I’ll avoid them. I feel like I am stepping back in time. Millions of years ago, maybe even thousands, the landscape was much different, but not much over the last few hundred. It’s spectacular. The full one hundred miles is spread out at my feet, reds, browns, greens, blues, and whites.
It take a whole lot of stubbornness. Part of it is just inherent in my personality, but part of it was learned. My dad was equal parts kiss-the-boo-boo and cry-and-I’ll-give-you-something-to-cry-about. I remember getting stuck in a tree one day. I didn’t realize how far up I had climbed when I finally turned around, and learned quite quickly that I had a fear of heights. Failing to find our mother, my kid brother brought my dad instead to help.
“Get out of that tree, else I’m going to get you out of that tree.”
That had been the whole point, but now I was pretty sure figuring it out myself was the better of the current options. To this day, I derive great satisfaction figuring out anything for myself, usually to the great annoyance of everyone who already knows how. To ask for assistance is paramount to failure, and yet I know I can’t do a hundred without it. Life is full of fascinating contradictions.
So now I find myself at a gawdawful time of day in one of the most beautiful places on earth. It’s six in the morning so none of the beauty is revealed just yet, which is fine with me. All I care about is getting started.
The pre-race meeting included a “fireside” chat by a local geologist and historian. He was one of those people you really wished you had had as a high school teacher. The tedious became fascinating through his eyes. He explained the history of “Virgin”, which turns out to be a someone and not a something. Hurricane was named after the fierce winds that have been known to sweep through the area.
The sun comes up as I’m make the first ascent. The views are amazing. The course meanders through the scenery, up on top of the mesas, then back down again. During the day, it’s a relief to be in the coolness of the elevation; at night, I’m happy to be back down again in the relative warmth.
He also explained the names of a couple of the aid stations. Turns out, there really were flying monkeys around the Flying Monkey aid station, courtesy of the military testing of ejection seats during the cold war. Damn flying monkeys, as a coworker exclaims in frustration. I can only imagine their astonishment at suddenly finding themselves airborne.
The other story I tell of my childhood is of joining the basketball team. All my life, I’d been told how great I’d be at basketball because of my generous height. So me and my best friend, also tall, joined. She quit after the first practice, and I was ready to follow her. Turns out, there’s a whole lot more to basketball than being tall. Like coordination. And physical stamina. Stuff with which I was not blessed.
When I told my parents, I was duly informed that quitting was not an option. I had committed to being on the basketball team, and I would see it through for the entire season. It was one of the most miserable times of my life. I was convinced the coach hated me. I played all of three seconds for the entire season. And I wasn’t allowed to miss a single practice. Not one. I hated every horrid second of it. No one had to ask if I was going back the following season.
I learned two valuable lessons. The first of course was, if you commit to something, you give it everything you have. There was no partial commitment. There is no reward in half-assed.
The second, equally important lesson: be very careful what you commit to.
That is in all likelihood why I am single. It is definitely why I am an ultra-runner. Running doesn’t require much, and I find my life so much the better for it. Running is uncomplicated. Running doesn’t ask stupid questions–running understands.
There is the possibility that guacamole really was involved at the naming of the Guacamole aid station, but in all likelihood, it was the landscape that reminded them of the tasty treat. Green, undulating, lumpy, with weird brown spots all over.
The sun is setting as I head towards the Grafton aid station. I take a moment to take in the entire view. There are clouds casting shadows across part of the landscape and the resulting colors are fantastic. I have nine hours of my world shrunk to the glow of my headlamp and I need this memory, along with my friends, to make it through.
There was no explanation–and probably none needed–for the Cemetery aid station.
Linda accompanies back to the Goosebump aid station (named presumably for the shape of the mesa–goosebumps). She’s determined to do at least a tenth the distance–no small feat. Jackie is at Goosebump to rub life back into my legs. Dave helps out with food and logistics, the bemused look of disbelief never leaving his face.
The Mormons were among the first to “discover” this area. Some of the settlers believed it to be Zion, but Brigham Young, during his initial visit, announced that “it was not Zion”. Some of his more literal followers then began to call it Not Zion. For me, it was either and both equally throughout the race.
In the beginning, it was Zion, the landscape, color, contours kept my legs moving forward. In the dead of night and the heat of the days, it was most decidedly Not Zion. In the cool evening sunset and warming gentle sunrise, it became Zion again. As the blisters on the bottom of my feet grew, it was back to Not Zion. The pancakes and bacon at the aid stations were very Zion-esque. After there was no denying that I had sprained my foot, it was firmly, definitely, and irrevocably NOT. ZION. On the Bueno scale, it was a “No”.
Then, slowly, as I half walked, half limped the final, eternal stretch to the finish line, it grew once again and finally, purely and simply, Zion. I turned to Dave and grinned after long last. “So that’s how it’s done. Any questions?” He shook his head no. “I’ve seen enough”.