Virginie and I travelled to Phoenix and got back just list last Wednesday. To say the trip was enjoyable would a gross understatement. Apart from getting lots of sun, there were a number of other things that made the trip super enjoyable. It made me start to think about all the miracles that happen around me, often enough that I take them for granted. I'm going to try and set the stage, so I can outline all of the little miracles I've witnessed over the past 7 days.
The purpose of the trip was to run the Zane Grey 50-mile endurance run. I admit, I registered for the race on a whim. My good friend from Phoenix challenged me, and besides, I kind of wanted to, I guess I just wanted someone to egg me on a little. He did not have to try too hard! I remember sitting in front of the computer, staring at my registration filled out, with the mouse over the "submit" button. I thought, "Have I not learned my lesson about these things?" I don't remember the exact day I pushed the submit button, but it would have been right around the time I finished the Iron Horse 100k. I was riding high!
I'm not going to get too much into the history of the race, apart from the name of Zane Grey being a person of historical, and literary significance, the race itself, running in it's 26th year, is one of the oldest 50 milers in the country.
I admit, I didn't know what to expect in terms of what kind of challenge it will be, so I was going down with no expectations is mind. I soon found out that what I was about to run, despite the fact that I had read it over and over again that what I was about to run was one of the hardest 50-milers in the country. I still did not believe it.
The Canadian Death Race is now a couple of years ago, and melting into memory. I joke with Virginie a lot that ultra running is like delivering a baby. It hurts, and you don't like it when you're doing it, but you also forget quick. Within a week, I'm always basked in the glow of a laptop screen hungrily searching for more punishment. Anyway, CDR was always touted as the "toughest race in the country". When I first heard of it, I believed it, but as I toyed with the idea of running it more and more, and especially when I finished, I began to see the virtual potpourri of "killer" trail runs that were popping up. I figured, every race has to make themselves "marketable", so I generally tend to ignore all comments about how tough a race is. I mean, running an ultra distance is hard enough without all the marketing...
My friend picked us up in Phoenix. A cool desert breeze to welcome us as we exited out Terminal 4 at Phoenix Sky Harbour Airport. He pretty much became our taxi for the next week. A miracle because he manages a group of developers, has a family, and his own ultra's to prepare for. I don't doubt that it took sacrifice to accommodate us.
We had no place to stay while in Phoenix. I wanted to keep things on the cheap, but ever since coming out as transgendered, I'm wary of asking things, because I want to respect other peoples lives and their freedom as well. People have every right to ignore me if they want. They have every right to keep me away from their families. Having to explain awkward things like gender transitions is a difficult thing.
Prior to travelling, I had not been running. 3 weeks to be exact. I had 1 day of elliptical, and 3 weeks of biking. I admit, I figured most of the endurance is in my head. If I can keep focused and keep my goal in a positive light, training would not matter as much. Seriously! If you can believe it, you can do it. But it really helps to have some decent training under ones belt.
By the end of the pre-race meeting, and by the time I had finished eating a boat load of spaghetti, I posted my jitters to Facebook. Within moments, I had all sorts of encouragement. I was ready!
What can I say about the race? There are 5 aid stations.
- Geronimo (Mile 8)
- Washington Park (Mile 17)
- Hells Gate (Mile 23.5)
- Fish Hatchery (Mile 33)
- See Canyon (Mile 44)
When I arrived at Washington Park, I had respect for the course. I had been making descent time, especially considering I had not run in 3 weeks. The hernia that I had been suffering from had flared up a little, but it was tucked aways in "that far away spot in my mind", and I was determined to keep it there. I'm not joking about this, and maybe only runners will agree with me on this one, but I don't think all pain is real. Some of it is just fake pain. I was speaking with the race director briefly. I told him, everyone had got me scared over nothing! The course was not that bad... He smiled and said to talk to him after I had finished the next 16 miles through hells gate. Often regarded as the toughest portion of the course.
I won't stall on this one. It was tough. Really tough. I recall getting to the Hell's Gate aid station and thinking "I'm not even half way through". It was a very brief thought. Stuff like that will kill a race very quick. There is no room for doubt and worry in a race. I had been listening to my race standards (like this one), and was reminded of the good advice I received. "Don't try to eat the elephant all at once".
It's funny, if I were to measure my energy in a race, it would be highest on either side of an aid station, and lowest in the middle. It was no different in this case. As I left Hell's Gate, I felt unstoppable. 90 minutes later, I was really struggling. I remember walking by a Gentleman with a twisted ankle, his face twisted in concentration. I asked if there was anything I could do for him. He responded that he had a walking stick, and all he could do was slowly make his way to the next aid station. I wished him best of luck and continued on.
At the Fish Hatchery I met my Pacer Marc Thomson. The video shows Virginie's video of me coming into the aid station. Marc and I grew up best friends together. I think it's so cool we have the same hobby. I admit, it was my idea to do ultra running, but Marc has become the teacher. He has some crazy races under his belt now including Mongollon Monster 100 (106 miles), and the Western States 100 Miler. Another miracle, Virginie had thoughtfully remembered my favorite "picker upper" on the trail. A vegi-delight sub from subway on flat bread. Mmmm divine!
Once I had my belly full, and with Marc, I found renewed energy. We made good time toward See Canyon, and because I was not feeling lonely anymore, and also Marc had a very good balance of pushing me just a little, we talked about everything, but mostly about our passion for running (which I admit wanes a little at points during an ultra marathon).
I have so much to say, so I'm going to pick things up a little... Near the end bad weather moved in. It was in the forcast, and the hourly forcast said around 7:00 it would start. I figured, if all goes well, I will get done by then, and not have to run in the rain. Yet, not too long after departing See Canyon, the rumbling of thunder came closer. With flashes of lighting and thunder (2 seconds apart), we got rain in torrents. Fortunately, they did not last long. The second torrent turned into a small hail/sleet. It was cold! It eventually dried up, and just a few miles from the end it started again. Except this time it did not stop. The end of the Zane Grey 50 goes through 2 large rocks, at the end of a small hill. Marc assured me I could run it. I thought, "are you insane?!?". Yet, as I saw the finish line, and saw the hill, renewed strength came. I ran up the hill, and across the finish. 14 hours, 2 minutes after I started 50 miles back at the Pine Arizona trailhead.
I wish I could give credit to all the people who made this possible. So many people played roles, but I think my biggest thanks go out to Marc Thomson and Virginie. When I think of Zane Grey 50, I will think about you.
2 days later, Virginie and I hiked to the top of Lookout mountain, just south of where we were staying. We got up at 4:00 am, so that we could be at the top to witness the 5:45 sunrise. While waiting, and while holding Virginie's hand, I turned on "Ordinary Miracle" by Sarah McLachlan. Music became the language of our souls. I have tried to capture that moment, along with all the other moments from our trip in the video.
I think the biggest miracle I see everyday is the love that we share with each other, and it's affect around us. It's a miracle that generates miracles.