Yet on Saturday night, we found ourselves northbound on the 15 headed to Area 51. No bus this time; Brian had agreed to drive and essentially stay up all night while we ran. For a guy who is staring down the barrel of a crazy-busy September including yet another trial, his selflessness really blew me away. As we chatted on our way to pick up Kat and Alex, he only asked once, "Why are we doing this?" I had been asking myself the same thing for a week. Once again, it was a Saturday night that could have been spent enjoying cocktails, a movie, a long dinner. But I'm tired of asking why. "Get busy livin' or get busy dyin'," I told him wryly, doing my best Red impression. Livin', we were.
The race was the same as last year. Ultramarathoners and marathoners get dropped off 20 miles before town. Half-marathoners unload a few miles after that, and everyone else starts in the parking lot of the LilAle Inn. The 10K runners begin at the 20 mile mark, run to the turnaround at 23.1, then back to the parking lot. For the 5Kers, they start five minutes after the 10K group and run to the first aid station and back. Ultramarathoners, of course, run to 25.7 and then back. I remember passing 23.1 last year and bursting into tears when the woman told me I could turn around. No, no I couldn't. But this year - hell yes! It was only six miles! Without the twenty mile warm up!
This proved to be the theme of the evening. Kat and I couldn't stop commenting how short this was. Six miles. Six miles! Anyone can run six miles. Dude. Six. Miles. It'll be over quickly. My pace would be slower than my 5K time but faster than half marathon. It's just a really weird late-night tempo run. I knew I'd PR since I'd only run one 10K previously in 2012. My time was 1:02? 1:03? Short of breaking a leg, I was confident I'd come in well under that.
Until we all got out of the car. The first gust of wind hit us. Then the second. Hmm...a bit blustery. We were, after all, in the middle of Nevada. The LilAle Inn was the only structure for miles. Alex immediately looked concerned. He's run the 10K four times now, taking second each time. He was determined to break the tape tonight. "This is not good," he declared as we walked to the Inn. My goal time of 46 minutes immediately dropped to 48.
The race didn't start until 1am, giving us two full hours to kill. We took silly pictures. We stretched. We went to the bathroom multiple times. We talked dreamily about the crazy foods we were going to devour as soon as this was over. (Having spent all day "eating lightly," the hunger level of our group rose with each passing hour. Alex kept talking about Fritos and tapatio and I couldn't get my mind off of Skittles.) Brian, delighted to find the cell service excellent, did a complete mock fantasy football draft.
I found this in the bathroom and thought it was a good omen.
We lined up, counted down, and took off. Alex, of course, darted out of sight instantly. This was his race to lose. I hung behind Kat for the first mile, clocking a solid 7:19. She and I were alone in the darkness, and her shorts were shockingly reflective. As she got further and further away, the rest of her body disappeared into the darkness while those shorts radiated brightly in the light of my head lamp. Eventually, all I could see was the shorts. Kat has a very distinctive gait, and in the light, her hips bobbed from side to side like clockwork. It reminded me of one of those tiny hula dancers you put on the dashboard of your car. A much welcomed-change from last year and the lady wearing the seizure-inducing green oscillating wig. At least this helped my turnover.
Instead of dealing with motion sickness, this year's challenge was contending with the heavy breathers. Opting to not wear ear buds, I could hear every sound around me, including the two dudes behind me who sounded like hungry zombies. The groans, the panting, the shuffling...it was driving me nuts. One guy ran directly behind my right shoulder, close enough to bite me. Pass me already, I thought grouchily. Just before the 3.1 turnaround, they both did, shedding light on one more dude in front of us (where did he come from?), but other than that, it was just us. Where were all the other runners? This was the quietest race I'd ever done. It felt more like a training run.
With the zombies in front of me, I concentrated on the third man. I passed him with ease and listened as he sped up. He passed me. I passed him. He darted past again. Oh, you wanna go? He clearly wanted to be in front. Okay, I get it. I sided up and ran next to him for several minutes, assessing the situation. Without music, I could listen to his breathing and ascertain how much effort he's exerting. This is something I've learned to do in the last few months, and it's actually kind of fun. As we ran, he was gulping air like a fish out of water. Far too shallow for this point in the run, and totally unsustainable. I smirked silently. He's really pushing himself. Since mile 1, my pace had dropped to a much more comfortable 7:49. I was running hard, yes, but this was moderately-intense for me. He, on the other hand, was putting it all out there.
Sure of myself, I glanced over and turned my smirk into a sweet smile. He grimaced at me.
Then I kicked up my heels, did my best DiBaba impression, and dusted him.
It felt good.
I lost my smile slightly there after. Instead of focusing on what was behind me, I realized the greatest challenge lay ahead of me. Namely, large groups of walkers (not zombies, but real, actual people walking). Exuberant groups of folks marching down the highway in the middle of the night, without a care in the world. Clad in glow sticks and clutching green alien balloons, they were chatting happily and occasionally shouting nice things at me. Very helpful, appreciated, thank you. Whatever floats your boat. And they could party it up on that road all they wanted, just as long as they stay out of my way. Most moved aside, but two rather jubilant walkers decided to join in. Hearing my footsteps coming up from behind, they ran in front of me. This lasted approximately ten seconds. Instead of moving over, they chose to simply stop, completely blocking my path. I was forced to make a wide left to get around them, sucking up precious seconds. Grr...it's okay. Enjoy your night...we are all in this together...
Alex found me on mile 5.5. Tape-breaker that he is, he yelled all kinds of helpful things for the next .7 miles. "Use your arms!" "On your toes!" "PUSH!" It was like being in labor again. I pushed. I swung my arms. We weaved around more walkers. I was doing great until I hit the last 20 feet, literally directly before the finish line, when pavement ended and turned into gravel. I almost wiped out completely when my right toe got stuck. I managed to right myself and cross upright, coming in at a rather frustrating 48:12, a 7:46 pace. Twelve seconds past my worst-goal time.
At least my knees remained unskinned.
Alex was the overall winner, running a solid 37 minute-and-change race. Kat came in right behind him, around 41 minutes, giving them a 1-2 finish. They beat the rest of the field by almost five minutes. Knowing there were only three guys in front of me, I landed in 6th place finish overall and 2nd place female. It was a solid sweep by our little team. Discouraged as I was over my time, I was delighted to have placed second only to Kat. Accepting my award was really neat.
I felt like a legitimite runner.
The next obvious step: do tequila shots. My bird-like friend with hollow legs and I happily stepped up to the bar and clinked together what can only be described as the biggest tequila shots I've ever seen. Maybe I'm just not drinking that much these days, but we both blanched slightly at the sight of those shots. They went down smoothly (thankfully!) and the salt tasted amazing. Fiesta!
Several miles away but quite possibly another planet, our little Bear was wreaking havoc at his sleepover. I got this picture at 7:45am Sunday morning.
As for the "why?" in this story, I learned Saturday night that "why NOT?" is so much more fun. I mean, you can only have so many drinks, eat so much food, and see so many movies. Running down a restricted highway with good friends and random strangers against a gnarly headwind in the middle of the night: now that's livin'. Just ask Red.