Sunday, July 11, 2021

Trail Magic

 The alarm went off at 4am. 

So many of my running stories start this way you would think I am an early morning person. I am not by nature, although life is clearly forcing me in that direction. Thank God for coffee on workdays. But I digress.

I had a long run planned for today, so I was up early to get down to Manitou. The plan was to run from bottom to top of Pikes Peak, then go back down and up 2 miles, then head over to the Crag's Trail and go down three and have Eric pick me up at the Devil's Playground. I added an extra egg to my pre-run breakfast and packed my running vest with water and food for a 20 mile excursion. 

The sun rose as I was getting up the first couple miles. The trail felt pretty good, and for a while, a woman from Milwaukee kept up with me and asked about a million questions about running out here and Colorado in general. I'm not really used to talking and running anymore, but it was a good distraction and all of a sudden I was at the top of the W's. I made it to Barr Camp a solid 13 minutes faster than I did two weeks ago, and was moving at a good clip above Barr Camp. With 4.8 miles to go (there's a sign), I did the math and realized I was on track to hit the top as fast or possible faster than I raced it in my last marathon. That felt good! 

That didn't last. 

I got above tree line, and things just fell apart, and fast. And by "fell apart," I mean in short order I was sitting on a rock, crying. I know it was the elevation - sometimes you are euphoric, sometimes you are sobbing and considering yourself a total failure at everything you have ever attempted while chubby, yellow-bellied marmots are literally running around you at a faster pace than you've been going. Eventually, I got my sloppy rear end up and moving again. I got to the two mile mark before the top and realized that if I made it up (and right then, it felt like a big "if," and not a "you'll get there eventually." Dying under a rock was option.), that was going to be it. I was going to be done and not get in the mileage I needed. I texted Eric, told him not to pick me up, and I was turning around.

I started back down and things were not getting better. I was slow, my stomach was gnawing at me, no matter how much trail mix I put in it. I was going down, but at some point I couldn't figure out where I was on the trail - I felt like I should have been further than I was. I got worried I didn't have enough water. I got worried I didn't have enough food. I was kind of an in-my-head mess.

I texted Eric and asked if we would pick me up at Elk Park, a spur off Barr Trail that plunks you off on the Pike's Peak toll road. "I have to get off this damn mountain." He agreed, but when I got to Barr Camp, the sign told me the mileage was double what I expected it to be to get to Elk Park, and it was uphill. Thanks to Visible wireless (which uses Verizon towers) I have a basic signal for most of the trail, so I texted Eric again and told him I was going to the bottom. 

I went to Barr Camp and sat on a bench. I felt like hot garbage, and was fearful I wouldn't make it down. Not rationally fearful - I knew I could get there, but that irrational "you know this won't be fun and what if" kind of fearful based on the last five lousy miles. I drank some water and ate some energy chews. 

And that's when Randy showed up, and he might have been sent by God because he made trail magic happen, and I don't think he even knows it. Randy had run to A-frame (just below tree line) and was on his way back down. He got out the filter that the Camp stores for runners, cleaned it (because it had been heavily used and not cared for) and pumped some water. He chatted with me and noticed that I didn't really look like I felt too well. This man, who I never met, asked if I needed more water and insisted on pumping the filter for me! We packed up to get on going. I ran to the outhouse and he disappeared into the Camp. When I got back, he had a plastic bag with him, and told me that the Camp was always looking for people to carry down trash, and they would give you a candy bar in exchange. 

I had not told Randy that I was worried that I didn't have enough food. Yet there it was. I went in, and sure enough, came out with a cannister of trash and a Snickers. 

We started out onto the trail, and looked down at my watch. Somehow, I must have hit the end button for my run, so I had to start a new run. 

And it was a new run. Randy was clearly a faster runner than me (he told me his race times), even at his 62 years to my 42. (But let me tell you, this man did NOT look 62). He stayed by me, and I told him that I probably couldn't keep up with him and he could go on. "I'll hang with you for a bit." So off we went, chatting about running and diet and whatnot. And we are moving down the hill, at a good clip that actually feels good - so much so that Randy at one point says "you don't have to go so fast... unless this is your normal pace" and I realize that now speedy Randy is trying to keep up with ME. My stomach no longer hurts, my legs aren't screaming at me, and my neck isn't throbbing. 

After three miles, Randy broke off the trail and went to check out the Incline, leaving me to my last four miles solo. They went just fine, and I ended my run with a total of 21.2 miles in the book. 

I never even ate that Snickers.

I hope I see Randy again soon. He's training for the Ascent, so it's likely. I want to thank him and tell him what I didn't really understand until I had time in my head in the last stretch - that he stepped in gaps he didn't know were there, and alleviated all the things I was worried about: water, food, making it down by myself. 

I'm sure there's all kinds of logic around him just being a nice fellow runner, and me feeling better because of a bit of rest and lower elevation. It didn't feel like that though; it felt like God-sent trail magic provided by Runner Randy the Restorer. 

Post-script: I try to be a really careful, self-supported runner. I wear sunscreen and bring layers. I don't take unnecessary chances. I run in control. I bring more water than I generally need. I bring more food than I usually consume. This is the first, and I hope only, time I have thought there was a chance I might not be able to make it out of something I ran myself into on my own. In retrospect, I don't think it was that serious, but I was a little scared, probably mostly because my brain stopped working for a little while. However, looking back, I had 16 great running miles, and 5 terrible ones. I have things to fix so that in the future, I don't repeat those five miles, but, as Eric says "you don't knock it out of the park every time." Just in case though, I'm bringing more tissue next time too.

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