Sunday, July 29, 2012

Just one more Day: Days 205 - 211

Day 205 – July 23, 2012

Ok. I have to admit it. When I get involved in a project, it’s hard to take the time to run. I've been consumed with an upholstery project for my son, Caleb. Then, when I finally headed out the door to run at dusk, the bugs were so bad they kept getting in my eyes, up my nose, in my ears, and plastered all over the front of me. I tried to keep my mouth closed so as to keep the protein intake at a minimum. It was so frustrating, I bagged it at 2.5 miles. But at least I ran fast.

Total – 2.5 road miles

Day 206 – July 24, 2012

Project day again. This time, I got out the door at 10:00 p.m. but I am so glad I did. A warm breeze was blowing, reminiscent of the kind you get at the beach. Stars were out and the country roads empty. Beautiful! I am so thankful I am able to run and enjoy it!

Total – 4 road miles

Day 207 – July 25, 2012

Another run at dusk but the bugs were not quite as bad as the other night. I suppose it would be better to run in the mornings but I do enjoy evening time.

Total – 4 road miles

Day 208 – July 26, 2012

Another team run, but a small turnout. The older kids got in six miles on this steamy, hot morning. I took two middle school boys for a shorter run. Seems like I am stuck a measly four mile run. But, with no races looming in the near future, my motivation is lacking a tad.

Total – 4 trail miles

Day 209 – July 27, 2012

With the Olympics starting tonight, I got out the door in the mid-morning sun, but not early enough to avoid the heat. I felt terrible and my knees feel, well, pudgy. They feel think and sort of hurt. And, my energy was low. The only good thing about the run was when it ended with some time in the pool.

Total – 6 road miles

Day 210 – July 28, 2012

I saw so many turtles on the trail today and unfortunately, fit right in. It was discouraging to have another day when I just didn’t feel strong and able. My knees have been making me take notice. This is strange since the big miles earlier this month didn’t seem to hurt them.

Total – 12 trail miles

Day 211 – July 29, 2012

I must be in a little slump. I fell asleep when I got home from church even though Olympic coverage was on. Maybe I’m getting sick or need a rest. As a result, I put on a more cushioned pair of shoes and basically had a rest day of just two miles. Maybe this week will be better.

Total – 2 miles
Year-to-date: 1465 miles

Friday, July 27, 2012

"God, are you sure about this?"

Emily Hill
I received news this morning that one of my runners has been injured, along with her dad, in a motorcycle accident. What was supposed to be a relaxing ride on the Harley during a week at the beach turned into the unexpected. Out of nowhere, a Jeep ran a stop sign, not even slowing, causing the motorcycle to ran into the side of the vehicle. The results are never good when that happens. Frantic calls, ambulance rides to the hospital, a messed-up bike, and lots of pain and suffering. Did God really want this to happen to His people?

If we believe in God's sovereignty, the answer has to be "yes." But that can be as hard to accept as being asked to eat nails for breakfast. Sometimes, however, in His mercy, God allows us a glimpse into the answer behind the "why."

Poor Harley
Christy Hill wrote the following email this morning in the aftermath of the accident. I was delighted when she said I had permission to share it with you.

Some of you may have heard about Tim and Emily’s motorcycle accident yesterday. We are at Myrtle Beach and Tim and Emily were on the bike just out for a spin when a jeep ran a stop sign and didn’t even slow down.  She pulled out in front of them. Tim didn’t even have time to react, they just ran right into them.

The impact “laid the bike down” meaning there was no way to keep it upright. The bike fell on top of Emily, but she slid a few feet from it. Tim took the brunt of the hit.  They were both sent to Grand Strand hospital. I got the call at 2:05pm from Emily (Conner and I were at the condo) and the medic told me to get to the hospital right away.  
Emily was treated for “road rash” on her left side, but had no other injuries. Tim suffered a broken collar bone, had a large deep gash in his right temple, road rash all over him, and severe pain in his leg. They kept him at the hospital last night.  When we left him, he was resting, but in extreme pain.
Emily had told me in the ER that the lady (Kimmy) who hit them was extremely upset (as anyone would be). But she kept telling Emily she “needed Jesus.” Emily prayed with her at the scene while waiting for an ambulance to transport her to the hospital – they took Tim immediately.  She [Emily] said in the ER that if this lady accepted Christ this accident would be worth it.  
The lady came to see us later that evening in the hospital. She asked us for “forgiveness” and told us she had been a believer, but had gotten away from the Lord. She said Emily’s words and actions were pulling her back to Him. In her card she wrote, “Your sweet smile ministered to me so much today. Your words of truth that “God is Almighty” put my soul at rest.” She told us at the hospital she wanted the peace and relationship that Emily had with Him.  
Not exactly how we wanted to remember our beach vacation, but God has a plan and purpose in all this for us and for Kimmy. Tim’s family is scheduled to come to the beach on Saturday, and we were going to spend next week with them.  We are just going to take things day by day.  Hopefully, Tim will be discharged today and can rest and recover some before we make the long trip home.  
I am praising God for His protection yesterday for them. When they ride the bike, I used to be very vigilant about praying for protection, but you get comfortable. They left yesterday about noon, and I do remember praying a prayer for protection for them. I know God protected them…it could have been so much worse…even ultimately.  
Thanks for your prayers…our main one right now is for Tim’s full recovery. He’s bringing back one massive scar on his face as a souvenir. I would have preferred a "Life is Good" T-shirt…I think I will get one of those as well.  
Love to all! 

7/27/12  NEWS UPDATE: In another email today, Christy shared the following:

It’s been a rough day.  Emily slept well and is stiff today, but she has been a trooper!  New xrays determined Tim also has a broken hand on his left hand and a cracked rib on his right side.  The doctor explained in a trauma situation, they treat the most serious injuries first and then reevaluate any other potential injuries.  The doctors are keeping him in the hospital until they think he can move on his own and there is no more danger for him.  Tim’s family is heading down to the beach tomorrow, so that will help.  He was able to stand and walk a few steps with a lot of help. He is still in a lot of pain.   

We recovered Tim and Emily’s things from the bike today.  We also visited the intersection.  God truly was protecting them.

Kimmy, the lady who hit them, texted Emily today and I am posting their conversation here…simply amazing. 
Kimmy: R u sure God can forgive me? I still feel so guilty. I’m so sorry. Ur such a power girl, great things will come out of your ministry starting with me. How are you feeling? How is your dad feeling?

Emily: Is this Kimmy?

Kimmy: Yes…Hey yes!  I prayed last night .I’m going to heaven!!!

Emily: Yes He loves ya and has forgiven ya. 

Kimmy: Emily I feel so free.  Like no more chains are holding me!! I want to tell everyone about God.  I was so excited with joy when I felt God forgive me. 

Emily: That’s what He wants. He wants you to also tell others about him and his great love. 

WOW. What else can I say? God was sure in what he was doing.

7/30/12  NEWS UPDATE: In another email, Christy shared the following:

A good day today. Tim got the word that he is being released tomorrow, Lord willing.  The improvement in his mobility has been tremendous. He is standing and walking much better than before, albeit slow and strained. 

The family is down in the beach house and we will be climbing Mount Everest (ok – one flight of stairs) to get him in, but once he’s in he will be on the main floor and have all he needs. So thankful to have the rest of this week to let him recover and still regroup. Stitches (22) will come out later this week for his face. 

Although things will not be “normal” we are looking forward to being at the beach with a little bit of normalcy.  We are already referring to things “before the wreck” and “after the wreck.”  It seems like we were on vacation 3 months ago rather than 3 days ago. It is so strange to be driving back and forth to the hospital with all the tourist attractions and beach things around us…things we were enjoying just last week. You always go on vacation hoping for rest and rejuvenation, and I must say this vacation we have changed…forever. We will take home scars, both physical and emotional…but they will serve as reminders of God’s faithfulness and love to us. 

I always read books over vacation and I was reading a book that spent a great deal of time dealing with how we should treasure our families and not take for granted those moments we have together, never realizing we would be put to the test (Why did I require a living visual? :) ).  We truly are rich…we have each other…we STILL have each other.  I had driven past this hospital the day before the wreck and remember thinking how sad it was for “those” people who would have to come here on their vacation…never realizing less than 24 hours we would be there. One thing is for sure…Hill Family Vacation 2012 will be one for the books! 

In my feeble attempt at humor in the ER I told Tim the least he could have done was to wait to do this until AFTER we had taken our beach pictures…oh well…we will take those pictures someday with our smiles telling how we looked death in the face, helped a young lady searching for Jesus, and learned that we are better off for it all. Only with the Lord right there by all our sides that Thursday afternoon. They say that what does not kill us makes us stronger…well, my dear friends…we are stronger today!  God is so good!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

All things new

Caleb was right. His new (to him) Catalina sailboat was a great bargain, even if the interior decor was retro plaid and the accent deck colors baby blue. But it was retro because it was truly retro. It was manufactured in the 1970's when tealy-blue was a hot color. (I should know. I lived that color back then.) But not so now.

The light-colored woodwork on the deck has already been restained and sealed in a dark cherry hue. The hull is slated to become black with accents of gold, the deck a light gray, remnants of the cabin's blue carpet will disappear, and the boat will take on a manly, sophisticated look. At least, that's the plan.

I happen to be part of the plan. The last time he was down at the boat, Caleb stuffed his car full of cushions in need of a make-over. He presented them to me, along with that shy grin of his, when he got home. They filled my sewing room to capacity and taunted me for a do-over. With a general idea of what Caleb wanted, my mission became finding an economical solution for this design dilemma. I lost count of the number of stores I visited in search of the perfect materials. After a failed attempt at using gold tablecloths for the accent color around the edges (it frayed so badly it thought the hairy BigFoot creature had visited Bedford with a bad case of alopecia), I settled on affordable king-size black sheets and found two bolts of clearanced upholstery fabric. Perfect.

The project is coming together. A couple of accent pillows and a coordinating curtain panel to give some privacy to the V-berth complete the picture. I enjoy making something look good, especially if its prior look was old and worn.

Old things becoming new. Don't you love the idea? Laws of thermodynamics tell us things naturally progress from order to disorder. (And if we look at a teenager's room a week after it has been scrubbed clean, we know this to be absolutely true.) But it's fun to ward off the chaos as long as possible.

Oddly, God, in his mercy, has a spectacular knack for everlasting do-overs. He takes what is inherently ugly, wraps us in a cover of love and grace, and presents us to the waiting world. Why? Why would he put so much time and energy into us? Perhaps it's because He takes no greater pleasure than for His work  to reflect back on the beauty of His own character. We likely drive God crazy when we let our nasty 'ol selves peek out from behind the beautiful tapestry that He's made.

When God draws us to Himself, saving us, He completely makes us over. We don't have to be retro, ugly and unacceptable in His sight anymore. We no longer have to be slaves to wrong-doing and evil. Rather, we become beautiful do-overs by the grace of God.

Will our frayed ends show from time to time? Sure. But God delights in snipping off those loose strands to tidy up the mess.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Just one more day: Days 198 - 204

Day 198 – July 16, 2012

After a reprieve from journaling my daily runs right before, during, and in the aftermath of the Tour de Virginia, I am back on track. Not that anyone had lost sleep over my absence. It’s just that this keeps me honest.

I’ve been running in the evenings for the last week after supper. It’s a nice way to end the day although the bugs at dusk has added a little protein to my diet. Tonight was a standard 6-miler that felt pretty good. I am running in INOV 233s, a lightweight road shoe, that I am loving!

Total – 6 road miles

Day 199 – July 17

This was an evening run with my team and it served to tell us all that we are NOT ready to run fast or hard yet. The distance was short but was comprised of short bursts either downhill (on the way out) or uphill, all the way back. Whew. We are out of shape for this kind of hill workout! Everyone was sucking wind.

Total – 2.5 gravel road miles

Day 200 – July 18, 2012

I love my evening runs followed by a cool-off in the pool. The only problem with runs near dusk is that I come back covered in bugs, inhaling a few along the way.

Total – 4 road miles

Day 201 – July 19, 2012

Another team practice but only 3 kids showed up! Ugh. Anyway, the first mile of trail was reminiscent of a few weeks ago n the AT. Lots of blow downs!  But after that, we enjoyed a romp on some very nice trail.

Total – 4.5 trail miles

Day 202 – July 20, 2012

Another evening run with the bugs, But, it’s a great way to end the day.

Total – 4 road miles

Day 203 – July 21, 2012

After a day of some work and some relaxation, I took to the back roads and enjoyed the sounds and scents of summer; fresh cut grass, cows, wild flowers blooming, and gravel crunching underfoot. A dip in the pool was a prefect ending.

Total – 5 road miles

Day 204 – July 22, 2012

A Sunday afternoon run was a hot and humid one. But it was a good way to spend a little down time.

Total – 6 road miles

Year-to date total: 1430 miles

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Just one more day: The hiatus ends

Just so you know. . .though I have not blogged about my daily runs the last several weeks (before, during, and in the aftermath of the Tour de Virginia), I am back on track and will be posting again at the end of this week. I must confess that I actually missed two days: the two days after I dropped from the Tour. I thought about abandoning the everyday run challenge, but decided that despite missing two days, I would try to get in 363 days this year; a feat I've never come close to.

Stay tuned. I am still running.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Tour de Virginia: Anecdotes and final thoughts

A few days ago, runners Eric Grossman, Troy Shellhamer, and Anne Lundblad finished the Tour de Virginia in Harpers Ferry, all 568 miles of it. None of the three found it easy. All suffered a lot, especially in the closing days. But they finished and must be congratulated for this tremendous undertaking.

I'm glad they finished on several levels. First, they are my friends and friends want friends to be successful. They worked hard, put in the time and miles, suffered like they had never suffered before, and arrived at the finish line. Cudos to them. Well done.

But secondly, I'm glad they finished so I can stop thinking about it and move on. Rob French concurs. Rob developed Achilles problems and pulled from the race the day after I left. He called me on Day 14 to commiserate. We have both had a good dose of quitters remorse and wish to put the Tour behind us but in perspective. Hence, I offer my last thoughts on the matter.

Gary picked me up on the morning of Stage 6 and brought me home. I quickly sorted wash and began the arduous work of putting away all my gear. I didn't want to be reminded of my failure, although at that point, I actually didn't feel too bad about dropping. Besides, I had work to do in preparation of the gang overnighting at my house.

On the day of Stage 7, I got up early and started working: cleaning house, preparing bedrooms, and cooking and baking. My feet swelled from standing all day, looking like swollen gourds. But it was worth it. By the time the runners arrived, barbeque grilled chicken, baked beans, homemade bread, salad, strawberry pretzel squares, apple crisp and ice cream, and a chocolate fudge torte awaited them. I enjoyed being able to give James and Adam a day or two off from having to cook. And, I think they all enjoyed sitting at a table in air conditioning after a dip in the pool and a cleansing hot shower. It was their first taste of normalcy in over a week, capping the day with a sleep in a bed.

Come morning, the runners left a little later than normal, a change not welcomed by Anne who was used to getting an early start. I put dinner in the crock pot and left shortly thereafter, having committed to crewing for the day. This relieved them of their dependence of springs for water. Unfortunately, I got to the first check point about five minutes behind the runners, finding out from a group of nurses out on on hiking outing, that Troy had fallen and ravaged his hand. In fact, the blood trail was still evident on the ground. Thankfully, they patched him up as best they could and sent him on the way. I gave chase, driving around Robin Hood's barn, to intersect with them at the next point.

I hiked in and waited, prepared with sodas, sweet tea, water, and a variety of snacks. Eric seemed surprised to see me. Techno TroyBoy approached, phone held to ear, chatting away. Anne was pleased to have a strawberry lemonade. I was just glad to assist.

Next stop was to check on Robin (Eric's wife) who was waiting five miles away before starting the trip home. The boys had come through and now she was waiting on Anne. I scurried off to the next spot, ThunderRidge overlook, although I was too late to catch the guys.

Nevertheless, at Petites Gap, both Eric and Troy arrived within minutes of each other, again grateful for being able to wash off, drink, eat, and refill their packs. Ten miles remained. I waited for Anne, expecting to soon see her ever-optomistic self. Wrong. As she approached, Anne sobbed. "I just fell again for the seventh time in eight days. I can't do this anymore. This will be my last stage. I'll finish the day but I am not starting tomorrow."

I was shocked. Anne is not taken to crying and emotion. With my arm around her, I led her over to a log in the shade and asked her to sit. She downed a Diet Coke and munched on some treats. Finally, she stood up and gathered her poles. "What's that bracelet you've been wearing all week?" I asked. It was obviously rubber and sort of pretty, but I wondered if it had a purpose.

"Oh yeah, Mark gave it to me. It helps with balance," she stated matter-of-factly.

"Balance? Really? How's that working for you?" I asked, glancing down at her bloodied and bruised knees. Then our eyes met and we broke out in fits of laughter. How ironic! But her mood lifted and off she went. By the time she got back to my house, her resolution to quit waned, especially when Emma, her daughter, chided her.

"Mom. Your fans will be so disappointed if you quit. Quitting is not an option. You only have six more days."

With that, Anne ate a hearty dinner and prepared for another day on the trail.

To give Anne a head start, I drove her to the trail head before sunrise and watched as she began the ninth stage. I planned on meeting the runners after they completed the first ten miles. But alas, my drive up the Blue Ridge Parkway was thwarted by a huge tree that had blown over in another storm. It took a thirty mile detour to arrive at my appointed position. But arrive I did, catching all three runners. Throughout the day, I held my breath that I would be able to manage the rough back roads in my Honda Civic station wagon. I winced whenever I heard the road rise up to meet the bottom of the car. Thankfully, I was able to meet them no less than five times that day.

By the time I saw them for the fourth time, a storm blew in, dropping heavy rain and lighting up the darkened sky with bolts of lightning and loud thunder. At least they wouldn't be hot any longer. Anne didn't look like she was relishing the weather. I hoped, for her sake, it would be short-lived.

I thought about heading home, now that they had only the last ten miles to cover. But instead, I made my way along back roads and finally arrived at the road leading to their stopping point. "Four-wheel vehicles only beyond this point. Cars not recommended." Oops. It would be a long walk out (about four miles) if I couldn't get to them. It was obvious the van had no chance of making it. It was up to me. With that, I swallowed my fear and headed in. All was well until the spot where a stream and road intersected. Large gravel had been dumped in the stream bed, perhaps a foot deep. I got out to take a look, thinking the car would sink into the stone. I was right. It did. But with speed, I managed to emerge on the other side. It was all about momentum. Whew. Disaster averted.

I was alone at the end of the road. That was worrisome. Off I trekked to the where the AT crossed the rugged Jeep Road. Gathering sticks, I barricaded the trail heading further north and made a sequence of arrows all the way down the hill and to the waiting car. Soon after, as I thumbed to the spot I left off reading in my book, I glanced up to see Troy approach. Yeah! Then Eric, and in another twenty minutes, Anne. Now all we had to do was get the car back across the stream and meet the crew in a nearby camping spot. Easier said than done.

It almost didn't happen. But with all the courage I could muster, I asked my passengers to hold on. Wheels spun, rocks flew, and water went every which way when we hit a big hole on the other side. We made it across and it seemed like the car was intact. (At least no parts were scattered on the ground.) I think it took about five minutes for my heart rate to come back down. Soon, we were back at camp where the runners posed for a parting picture before showering away the day's grime.

Then came the drive home. I had learned a lot from watching them persevere. Especially Anne. So tough. My mind was busy contemplating suffering and endurance, desire for the extreme and the commitment it takes to achieve. I was glad I could be of service for a couple days, hanging onto the feeling of kinship with the others.

Now, the event is over and I can finally stop mulling over the happenings. I was glad to be a part of the event, even the way it turned out for me. Lessons learned, life goes on.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Tour de Virginia: Recap Day 5

Well, we all know what happened on day 5. It was the first thing I blogged about when returning home not even midway through the Tour. (Catch up here if you missed it.)

As the days go by, there is little I can think about other than the events that transpired. I keep contemplating that I could have been, no, should be with the three remaining runners as they head for the finish in Harpers Ferry today. But alas, I am not. Honestly, I can't wait to congratulate them for their outstanding performances. So impressive! Yet, at the same time, I am hoping their finishes will allow me to put things in perspective and move on.

Here is what I've been thinking. It's the honest, brutal truth. I've been trying to weigh the reasons for the decision I made to quit against reasons why I should not dropped. Bare with me as I try to make sense of it all, in no particular order.

Reasons why I dropped:
1. I was emotionally spent, crying often during the day.
2. I felt lonely. I was not happy.
3. I was WAY behind the others--again. I hated this. This happened daily.
4. I got the feeling, whether imagined or not, that the others thought I was too slow, ill-equipped, and regretted the decision to "invite" me via Facebook. It felt like something between pity and annoyance at me making the logistics so difficult.
5. The miles seemed endless.
6. My feet really hurt, especially the blister under the ball and heel of my foot. It slowed progress over the rocks and uneven ground because it felt like it was being ripped apart.
7. Having enough to drink was a continual battle. Hence, I probably didn't drink enough in hopes of not running dry, resulting in compounding dehydration.
8. I had decided throughout the day that I hated the time on the trail. There were so many things to be done at home. At the time, it seemed to be a waste.
9. I wanted more sleep. I was functioning on a few scant hours per night. It was frustrating to never "feel" tired when I crawled into my tent. I didn't understand that. I should have been exhausted.
10. I hated the rushed routine of early mornings, trying to stay ahead of the others, being on the trail all day, a hurried supper and prep for the next day. I couldn't imagine nine more days of the same.
11. When I prayed for someone to show up at the road crossing--and they did--I felt that it would be kin to kicking a gift horse in the mouth if I turned down their help.
12. My husband had said he would pick me up if I dropped out. He loved me either way. But I almost wished he would have given me a little "tough love" encouragement.
13. I figured it would be between 9:30 and 10:30 p.m. before I finished the stage. I questioned my ability to eat, get cleaned up, pack for the next stage, and get up to do another 40-plus miles again at 3:30 a.m.
14. No one tried to talk me out of dropping. Had there been reception, I should have called someone who would tell me quitting was not an option.
15. I got frustrated at the thought of no support or check-ins during the day. What if something happened to me? No one would have any idea of where to start looking. The feeling of being on my own for 46 miles in a weakened state was overwhelming.
16. I decided I never wanted to do an aggressive multi-day event again.

Reasons why I should not have dropped:
1. Wise decisions are seldom made when based on emotion. I was definitely too emotional to make a wise decision.
2. Did my feet hurt? Yes. But not as bad as they have in past adventures. I could have put up with more pain (I think), assuming I could squish them into shoes again in the morning.
3. My legs were still fine. They felt a little tired when crawling over and around blowdowns but other than that, they were intact.
4.  I had paid into the event. I had just as much right to do the event (at my own speed) as everyone else.
5. There was nothing life-threatening about my state. I was just feeling a little weannie-like.
6. I contemplated how my suffering and perseverance could have be a great lesson to the athletes I coach.
A little swollen
7. It might have been wise to finish the stage, despite the late finish, went through the motions of preparation, and see how I felt in the morning. My Dad always said, "Get up and get moving. You'll feel better."

In retrospect, the following are tumbling around in my brain, still not bringing clarity.
1. My "recovery" has been very easy. It's almost like I didn't do anything. This tells me I didn't leave it all out there on the trail.
2. My feet are the only physical reminder of the event. I am still filing and cutting away dead skin, resulting in several big "holes" several skin layers deep.
3. I have run all but two days since then and my legs feel fine, strong, even.
4. Had I not dropped out, I would not have been able to host the runners for two nights to the extent that I did, cooking and baking huge volumes of food. I think this was of benefit to the runners. I LOVED serving them in this way.
5. Had I not dropped out, they would not have had support while out on the trail during stages eight and nine. This allowed them to carry less and not rely on streams and springs for their water. Again, the runners benefited because of this and I enjoyed continuing to be part of the team.
6. I have not been a good example to my athletes in terms of demonstrating perseverance despite adversity.
7. On the other hand, my failure to endure could be an example of what not to do.
8. Even on that day, I felt guilty in not finishing the stage. I could have at least done that. I didn't know it at the time, but I would have had but five miles remaining instead of seven. (The finish area had to be changed.)
9. But, had I finished and continued on, who knows if I would have broken down physically later on?

I'm sure you can tell I am still tormented about dropping out. I know I have to come to grips with it or risk going crazy. So, how can I bring resolution?

A friend recently wrote: "I understand your internal struggle. . .You can’t go back and change your decision.  If you had been doing this alone, you could have had a shorter day or taken a day off to allow body and mind to recuperate. . . It is way too easy to second guess ourselves after the fact. You made your decision and at least in my eyes you made the correct one. God gave you a brain to think and reason. You utilized that brain to make the best decision.  Remember, God answered your prayers when you needed it the most.

He's right. I can't go back and change anything. What's done is done. I need to get over it. Is it embarrassing to have dropped out after five days and only about 200 miles, a mere third of the total? Yep. Sure is. I went into this knowing it would be the hardest thing I'd ever done while reminding myself what it would be like to run across the bridge in Harpers Ferry. Apparently, that wasn't enough. Today, the others finish without me. Cudos to them. Well done.

Me? I'm not getting any younger but maybe I don't have to hang up my quest for adventure. Perhaps I only have to amend the method. Crew support. Flexible schedule. A partner. So brother John, maybe the 586-mile Israel Trail can be undertaken after all.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Tour de Virginia: Recap Day 4

"James," I asked the night before. "Do you think I could con you into taking down my tent in the morning and throwing it in my bin? I need to get up even earlier than I have been to get a jump on the others. Our tents are so close together I don't want to wake them."

"Sure. No problem." Sweet James.

It was a little awkward to ask for special help. Up to this point, we were supposed to take care of everything ourselves. In fact, originally, Eric had the idea that we would each have to cook for ourselves in the the evenings. Thank goodness he decided to bring along his brother James, a professional chef. On my previous adventures, I was blessed to have crew to deal with all the logistical details of setting up and taking down camp, helping to prepare packs, and worry about all the other details. It was all I could do to just get up and run. But this time around, I was finding it difficult to take care of everything. My non-running hours were so few, it proved to be a major challenge for me. Still, though I asked but this once, it seemed to open a flood gate. In coming days, the remaining runners seldom had to deal with camp set-up or take-down issues.

I set my alarm for 4 a.m. Since everything was prepared the day before, I merely grabbed my breakfast items and headed up the trail. I was actually disappointed to see several other runners up and at 'em as I passed by the campsite on my way out. I felt pressure rising knowing they would be in hot pursuit, again relishing me to bring up the rear--again. It was quite depressing. But I could hardly blame them for wanting to leave in the dark. The massive heat wave was still in full swing. We were running right into the depths of a pre-heated oven with no promise of quenching water.

The first seven miles went by quickly. I was so pleased that my legs still felt no stiffness or soreness after three long days on the trail. I suppose it was my turtle-speed that protected them. The terrain allowed considerable running in this section, eventually leading to a downhill run on gravel, across the I-77overpass, down a country road, and back onto trail. My progress was good and I was happy with the time it took. But since it was inevitable, Rob came up behind me followed by Anne and then TroyBoy. In fact, we were all together when we descended the hill down to a shelter in search of a spring at about 19 miles. (Eric slept in. He would pass me, however, within the next few miles.) I ended up being last in line to lay claim to the trickle of water escaping from a crack in the rocks. For the first time, I dropped in iodine pills to treat the water. I hoped the taste wouldn't be too bad.

This meant I was the last one to reclaim the trail. I didn't like being last. I could only imagine what the others thought of me. I was doing my best for the circumstances, but my best wasn't even their worst on a bad day. The pressure I felt was intense. I couldn't shake the feeling that they would rather me not be in this event. My speed (or lack thereof) was just too inconvenient for everyone else.

At this point, I could feel the heat rising and my emotions falling. Eric passed me somewhere in there, briefly telling me of going down the wrong trail to the spring. Then he was gone. The trail eventually popped out into the open, immediately raising the temperature about twenty degrees. It was miserable. Then came a footbridge across a river and s surprise on the other side.

"Hey, come over here" a young man shouted. "I have soda, water, grapes, and some other snacks. Want some?"

Do I? Yes! A West Virginia runner, who I did not know, had heard about the Tour and drove an hour to help. He said we were all within thirty minutes of each other. That was encouraging to hear since I figured I was hours behind, standard fare for me. His refreshments did just that as I crossed the road and began the next climb. With only fourteen miles to go, I felt confident of turning in a reasonable performance. Energy good. Legs good. Attitude getting better.

There were more blowdowns in this section, which I negotiated with a sense of normalcy. I glanced at my data card and checked off an intersecting trail two miles later. Then the trail slipped into a rhododendron tunnel that twisted and turned, providing much needed shade. It was lovely and quite runnable. The tunnel gave way to an open hardwood forest, the trail rambling through it like a giant ribbon. There were plenty of little bridges but alas, the streams beneath were simply dry rock. I was getting thirsty again and needed to refill.

Somewhere along the line, the tunnel and forest trail seemed to blend into one big maze. It was like I was getting nowhere, trekking in circles. Every time I came to another bridge, I could have sworn I had already crossed it. I could find nothing on the data card to serve as a point of reference. Round and round I went, not sure if I had somehow doubled back. I was in the twilight zone.

Much to my relief, I finally passed a stream with moving water, filling my pack to the brim and guzzling the fresh water as fast as I could. Then a shelter appeared on the right and my faith was renewed that I was still following the blazes to the north. This meant six miles remained. Easy, right?

Wrong. The climb out of that hole was, as Anne later described it, "heinous." Steep and rocky, it went straight up. I gasped for breath and leaned on my poles to propel me upward. It was incredibly difficult but finally turned to follow the contour of the mountain's ridge line. I also became aware that my feet, especially the right one, were becoming a problem. I could feel that a blister, deep under a callous in the ball of my feet, had formed. A step onto any uneven surface pulled and tore at it. Another equally deep blister formed under my heel callous. Progress was slow and the eventual descent off the rocky mountain trail not at all pleasant.

After what seemed like hours, I saw the van waiting at the road crossing for me. Adam handed me a Diet Coke. Eric's dad, visiting for the day, was sent to check on me since it was taking so long. By the time we drove the half-mile down the mountain to the Woodshole hostel, everyone else had already showered, organized their packs, and had started the eating and drinking process. I felt more like the odd-man out than ever before.

The outdoor shower washed away the grime but not the hurt and feeling of dread. I found it difficult to bear any weight on my right foot. It was very painful. I began to think of the 46 miles coming up in the next stage. "How in the world?" I mused. I felt depressed and sullen. Even the oven-baked pizza seemed bland and blah.

Rob, Troy, Anne and I slept in a rustic loft that evening. The ladder leading up through the hole in the floor was difficult to negotiate on hurting feet. Three times during the night, I woke up with a cotton-mouth feeling. Climbing down the ladder, I downed several glasses of water before climbing back to my mattress. Then, the process was repeated twice when my kidneys finally responded to the fluid. I massaged my feet with cream and came up with a plan for how to protect the blisters come morning. Though it was still difficult to bear weight, by the time my alarm went off at 4:30 a.m., I had convinced myself that everything would be okay.

"Get up and get going," my Dad used to say. "You'll feel better." I sure hoped he was right. Once I started, there was no turning back.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Tour de Virginia: Recap Day 3

If it's not one thing, it's another--But God is faithful.

Even as I started across the field and followed the wooded trail under cover of darkness, I felt the slimy coating of sweat begin to form on my skin. The humidity was oppressive, even in those early morning hours. With temps predicted to hover around 100 degrees later in the day, the combination would certainly be problematic.

But for now, other issues presented themselves. My progress was slowed as my internal plumbing decided to awake. A few stops along the way was not the loveliest way to begin the day. However, I continued to pick my way around one blow-down after another, soon realizing that the storm damage in this section was even worse than before. It was endless. Though my legs still felt very much intact despite the miles of the first two days, it was tiring to have to crawl, wiggle, and slither through or around the offending branches. It became so ridiculous that I lost interest in trying to be fast. Anyway, fast was probably impossible for me regardless of the circumstances. Rather, I pulled out my phone and snapped pictures. Somehow, I justified my slow speed by documenting the carnage in the forest. The pictures don't do it justice.

Had it not been for the toppled trees, the trail in this section would have been lovely; smooth surfaced and windy it's way through open hardwood forests. But that wasn't the case now. After relentless thrashing battling life and limb, I arrived at the first of many wooden ladders that provided passage over fences, thinking the difficulties were a thing of the past. Silly me.

I was glad to temporarily put the obstacle course behind me. As I climbed the ladder I realized the trail was leading me into new territory. The path traversed grassy meadows and open cow pastures. The countryside, with a lonely road below and old farmhouses and barns scattered across the landscape, was picturesque. For a few moments, the difficulty and frustrations of the past couple of hours vanished. I drew in a deep, cleansing breath. Ahhhh. Well, perhaps it wasn't quite as cleansing as I thought. The heavy scent of manure overpowered the sweet smell of cut hay. I turned my attention back to following the 2x4 inch white trail blazes painted on rustic fence posts while avoiding an unpleasant splat into a fresh pile of poo.

Again, the trail left the pasture to re-enter the woods. Disappointingly, it was more of the same. Every fifty yards, or so, there was another downed tree. This was getting to be very annoying. Then, it was into more pasture and open areas, now in the full blare of the brilliant sun. It was quite unpleasant to trek through this area. I wished for the protective covering of the forest.

I got it. But there was a price to pay, of course. More downed trees. Now I ran past a shelter and started a long, not-too-steep descent. Normally, a stream parallels the wide trail. I was wet-sweated and had been sipping routinely from my hydration pack. I really needed to drink more at the rate I was losing water. The data guide claimed many streams along this section. Surely, I would be able to refill in preparation for the coming 2,000 foot climb.

I was disappointed to hear only the faint sound of a trickle. There was certainly no gushing water washing over the rocks in the stream. I kept an eagle eye out for even the smallest pool. Finally, I left the trail to head down through the brush in an attempt to capture some of the precious liquid. While I was in the stream bed, Eric cruised by. He stopped and chatted momentarily. Though I expected him to catch me given my slow rate of speed, it was disturbing to see him so soon. I followed him for a while but he disappeared quickly down the trail. Eric must be half Ninja. No downed tree seemed to bother him. One moment he was on this side. The next, he was gone.

Now the trail leveled out into what I call a "bottom": mountain sides rise steeply on either side as the trail runs through the narrow gap. I saw my second snake of the trip, again pulling my phone to capture the black, slithering serpent for posterity sake. It was damp and lush here, a foot bridge leading me across a flowing creek. I considered stopping to again refill but decided otherwise when I saw water "foaming." I didn't want to risk drinking water that may have been contaminated upstream by humans, cows, or beavers. There was nothing to do but cross the dirt road and begin the wicked climb up to the 4,409' Chestnut Knob.

Continuing to be cautious with the amount I was drinking, I  pushed onward and upward on the steep and rocky path. A sign warning of the presence of bears caught my attention. About a mile from the top, I turned to see Rob and the ever-plugged in "Techno-Gadget TroyBoy" approaching from below. We exchanged a few words as they took the lead in pursuit of Eric, now presumably at least ninety minutes away. Not long after that, I placed my lips to the drink tube and drew in. Nothing. I could tell the bladder was collapsing on itself. Uh-oh. This could mean trouble.

The data book showed a spring-fed lake at the top of the climb, complete with a pipe and catch basin at the east end. I could see it now: a sparkling lake shimmering reflections of the clouds above, the pleasant sound of fresh, clear water flowing from the pipe, and a quick, refreshing dip in the pond to drown the oppressive heat. Trouble is, I nearly ran right past the pond. Rather than a beautiful sight, the surface was covered in a thick layer of green slime, bullfrogs croaking claim to their accommodations. The pipe and catch basin were bone dry, nary a drop to be found. Troy had already left. Rob was with me trying to wish water from the well. When that proved fruitless, Rob turned and walked away, leaving me to cry a few tears.

"Now stop that," I admonished self. "Don't waste what fluid you have. You may need those tears. Crying does you no good."

As I had no choice, I stood and walked back to the open and exposed trail across the flat mountaintop. Someone had scribbled a note on the wooden sign. "Next possible water 12 miles." I gulped, noticing that my dripping, sweaty skin was now as dry as Ezekial's bones. In fact, I must have stopped sweating sometime ago; even my once drenched shorts and top were completely dry. I was in trouble.

"God, I really need you. Help me. I need water. I don't really care how you do it. If you want to make it come out of a rock, fine with me. Or, send a shower if you like. Anything you choose is fine. But I really don't want to keel over out here."

With that, I dialed back my emotions as well as my speed. The prospect of no water for hours spawned the "fight or flight" instinct. I started running. Quickly, however, I reeled it back in. I needed to conserve what energy I had. I also found I had a cell signal. I placed a call to James, the crew chief, but just got his voicemail. "James, if you get this, we are all in trouble. No water for miles. Can you get to road crossing 623 and drop water? Thanks." I'm quite sure I sounded pitiful.

Eric had designed the event to be self-sufficient during the day. In other words, he would not have the crew meet us to offer support. We were on our own. Though an admirable approach, perhaps it was short-sighted given the extreme temps and unreliable (non-existent) water sources. I certainly felt increased pressure due to the arrangement.

As I walked along, I noticed something strange. My thighs, normally sporting wrinkly, saggy, cellulite-encased skin, looked tight and fresh. I stopped to take a closer look. Yep. They looked like my legs did twenty years ago, maybe even thirty. If being dehydrated meant better looking legs, maybe it was worth it. I decided to leave a note in the event I keeled over and died. "Last request: Please let my legs show in the casket. They look better now than any other part of me. Thanks for understanding."

After two more miles of trekking in the hot sun, I looked up to see a shelter silhouetted against the bright sky. Smoke from a small cooking fire rose into the air, providing a delightful scent. A young man, perhaps in his early twenties, milled about, his shirtless chest revealing a slim but athletic build. And there on the ground were two gallon-sized jugs filled with water. I was staring at the liquid gold when he turned and said, "Hi. I'm cooking up some fish I just caught. Want some water?"

Water? Sure! Fish? Where in the world did he just catch fish. It made no sense at all. In fact, I wondered if I was delusional. But sure enough, the water was wet and wonderful.

"Where did you get it?" I quarried.

"Oh, down the mountain about a mile and a half. I marked the way to the spring with arrows. It's an easy one to miss."

I thanked him profusely, told him Anne would be coming along shortly, and started down the mountain feeling revived and grateful. "God, You do provide. You are Jehovah Jireh. Thank you!"

The spring was little more than a slow drip out of pipe, a leaf directing the water into my bottle. I stayed there for as long as I dared, having another thirteen miles to conquer. Again, I made my way back to the trail, a relentless progression of ups and downs, footing rocky and treacherous. It was slow going, still hot and oppressively humid. The miles went on and on and on. Anne passed by, having made up ground on me. It was depressing to see her scamper by. I felt added pressure again knowing I would be the last to arrive back at camp. Though no one said it out loud, I was fearful  the other runners saw me as a monkey-wrench boogering up the works. I hated that feeling. Maybe I didn't belong out here.

Though continuing to be careful with how much I drank, my water supply quickly diminished. I was in trouble again. "Ah, Lord. Could you do it again, please. Water at the next road crossing would be wonderful."

After what seemed an eternity, I looked up to see a giant boulder marking the trail crossing. There, lined up like soldiers, were bottles of water covering the surface of the rock. There was even one can of lemon-lime soda. Knowing I was the last of our crew through this point, the contents quickly disappeared into my waiting stomach. Jehovah Jireh.

I was able to pick up a little speed (all relative, of course) in the last five or six miles. The trail become more runnable as it hugged the mountainside, past another shelter, and then descended to the road crossing, our camping spot for the night. I was overjoyed to reunite with the others, some now fresh and revived after their evening meal. James offered the best bacon cheeseburger I've ever eaten. The day had taken it's toll on everyone, as it turned out.

Now, I had to set up my tent, prepare my pack, and try to sleep before my alarm sounded at 4:15 a.m. Given my performance, every day would have to be an earlier start to keep the finish times within reason. It was a lot of pressure. More time on my feet and less time to recover and sleep. Was it a recipe for failure? Time would tell.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Tour de Virginia: Recap Day 2

After a sleepless, soggy night, I was anxious to get a jump on the 36-mile stage. I was the slowest and hence, was asked to start earlier than the others. That was okay by me. More dark meant less sun. The wet ground muffled my movements as I packed away the sodden hammock and gathered my wet pack. I hoped my light would not wake the others, still nestled in their tents. I wanted to steal away, unnoticed. Usually, I embrace solitude.

The trail immediately rose ahead of me as I set in for the long climb. Last night's storm, along with the storm two days prior that had rendered hundreds of thousands without power, wreaked havoc with the trail. As is my habit, I swept aside myriads of branches and limbs laying across the trail, thinking the action as a favor to my friends who would follow in my footsteps. However, after awhile the task proved endless. The damage was extensive and I could barely make a dent in the trail-clearing category. Nevertheless, once the climb ended, the trail began to fall off the mountain in a beautiful, gradual descent. I ran effortlessly, amazed that no soreness or stiffness resulted from yesterday's forty miles. My progress was good and my mood light. I wanted to put as much ground as possible between me and those who would be beginning their journey within the hour. I felt as though I was a mouse trying to stay out of paw's reach of the cat.

As the trail leveled out to cross a foot bridge, I glanced to the side to see a plastic bin containing "trail magic." A local youth group left packages of goodies and a cooler of water to service trail users. The small Cheetos package and baggie full of Fruit Loops and Lucky Charms proved too hard to resist. I was grateful for the unexpected snacks. Later, Anne would ask, "Did any of you eat Fruit Loops? I kept seeing them on the ground. It seemed sort of odd."

The trail rose again after passing through a lush bottom, topping out on a long ridge. Despite the rising heat, a stiff breeze provided an element of cooling comfort. My spirits were good despite endless negotiations with blown-down trees blocking the trail. I glanced often behind me when I heard the leaves rustle or a branch snap. I was sure the other four runners would soon catch and pass me. I pressed on, wanting to postpone that event as long as possible.

I was enjoying this portion of trail but found the path beginning to rise sharply, the trail strewn with rocks that made the footing challenging. Still, I dug in with my trekking poles and made good progress. Finally, at about 28 miles (I think), the first of the runners caught me. Shoot. I was disappointed that my hour and a half head start had vanished. The boys were impressed and perhaps a little surprised that it took them that long to catch me, the old, slow lady of the group. I was demoralized that they caught me at all.

Still, Anne remained behind me. This would be the only time it happened. I was moving well, very pleased that my legs responded to the call to run when the trail once again descended or smoothed out as we neared the town of Adkins, the stopping point for the day. But as would be the case, the miles seemed to be getting longer as time went on. I kept expecting Anne to catch me and almost wished she did when I encountered more massive, fallen trees barricading the trail. It was reminiscent of our SB6K adventure that demanded us to crawl, climb over and around countless tree obstacles. I laughed out loud at the mental picture of Anne falling headfirst and backwards down the mountain three years ago as we negotiated our way around a similar tough spot.

Imagine my surprise when I spotted Rob, who had charged past me an hour before, in the midst of crawling through another huge blowdown. I saw only his butt through the branches. "Nice technique, Rob."

"Ah, I've been here for twenty minutes. I can't find the trail on this side of the tree." He seemed very disoriented.

"Let me help," I said as I went around the end and joined in the search. He was right. No sign of a trail. I crawled back to where I entered and noticed another trail. The tree played a trick by falling directly onto a switchback. "This way, Rob. The trail continues up the hill."

He wasn't convinced. "We would be going south if we go that way."

"Nope. Look. We came from there," pointing to the trail below. "We need to go up." Finally, he was convinced and began to run in earnest as he again passed me. Though we had now entered an open field getting the full brunt of the sun, he flew down the trail in pursuit of Eric and Troy. Those boys were "racing," very competitive with each other even on the second of fourteen days. Not me. I continued on at my own focused but reasonable pace, just glad to arrive at the finish in one piece and feeling fine. Anne arrived perhaps ten or fifteen minutes later.

The waiting van carted us off to the backyard of a work associates of Eric's who lived nearby, but not before we all downed ice-cold sodas or tea. It was a relief to be able to drink our fill without worrying about where our next fluid source would be, as was the case during the day. A hot shower washed away any hardship of the day and a meal of pork and vegetable skewers filled our bellies. This was backyard camping at it's best. After the meal, prep for the next day was required before zipping closed the tent door. I called Gary to tell him about the day, wishing him a happy anniversary. Not too many husbands would be thrilled to mark 35 years of married bliss by having me in a tent far from home. Thank God for my partner in life and his encouragement to pursue crazy dreams.

To encourage sleep, I swallowed a couple NyQuil capsules and eventually found much needed rest. But all too soon, the alarm sounded at 4:30 a.m.asking me to start my day before the others even rustled. I felt rising pressure to step it up. My slowness and later finishes presented logistical difficulties for the others and I did not want to be the anchor that pulled the ship into the murky depths.

James carried me back to the trail and must have momentarily watched my headlight disappear into the darkness. Then, though I did not look back, I heard the van pull out as I made my way across the first field and into the wooded trail, munching on my breakfast apple in hand. The third stage was to be another relatively short day at 38 miles. (Endurance events have a strange effect on the concept of distance.) None of us had any idea of what was to come. Good thing. Perhaps none of us would have ever started.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Tour De Virginia. Recap Day 1

The truth and nothing but the truth. Herein lies my account of the 2012 Tour de Virginia, the 568-mile traverse of the Appalachian Trail (AT) with the borders of Virginia.

I had anticipated the event for months. Previous adventures lasted for seven days. Tough, to be sure. But this one was a fourteen day undertaking covering nearly 600 trail miles. That's a lot of ground to cover. I was pleased with my training, comfortable with my newly-acquired skill with trekking poles, and looking forward to pushing the limits of what is possible for me, a 55-year old woman who is given to grand ideas despite an aging body.

Troy, Eric, Rob, Anne, Me at the TN/VA border
Finally, the day came to gather in Damascus. We would be climbing to the TN/VA border on the AT. This round trip of about eight miles actually scared me. I was afraid that my slowness would be all-too obvious to the other runners. I didn't want to embarrass myself so soon.

Alas, my fears were unfounded and the group trip was pleasant enough. I knew Anne Lundblad well, having adventured with her three years prior on the record-setting South Beyond 6000. Of course, I knew Eric Grossman, the mastermind of the event, but not very well. He always finished hours and hours ahead of me at races. We really didn't have much of an opportunity to interact. But I did not know Rob French and Troy Shellhamer other than through Facebook encounters. I wondered how the group dynamics would play out.

James Grossman
Adam Bolt
This trip also included two other personalities. The crew chief, chef (a professional), and main driver was Eric's older brother, James. His sidekick, Adam Bolt, a recent college grad in search of a job, joined the crew. If this was going to work, our seven personalities would need to blend in a spirit of teamwork, camaraderie, and cooperation. None of us could go it alone and live to tell about it.

Once we returned from the trip to the border, the rest of the afternoon was spent between an attempt to relax in the near-100 degree heat and restless preparation for the first forty-mile stage. I got little sleep that night in anticipation. The plan was for me, the slowest of the group, to start at 5 a.m. so that our finish times could be close together. Others would begin at 7. Not. Eric beat everyone out of the gate with the rest of use close on his heals. The promise of record high temps, I suppose, caused the change of plans. The more time spent in pre-sun hours, the better.

Rick Gray
Rick Gray, having volunteered to spend the day with me, showed up bright and early. Off we went like a herd of turtles. It was hard to imagine what the day would hold for us. Over 10,000 feet of climbing was on the docket, including the difficult ascent and descent of 5728-ft high Mt. Rogers. Soon, Rick and I were the last ones in the line progressing toward the finish. My pack, filled with three-liters of water and food for the day, felt heavy on my shoulders. Eric planned for us to be completely self-sufficient during this race. No aid was planned for any stage from the time we started to the time we finished. We were on our own. I was concerned about this, considering the intense heat and humidity. It certainly promised to add a unique dimension to the event.

Thankfully, fellow runners, Beth Minnick and Jennifer Nichols, took things into their own hands, twice meeting the runners at road crossings. They came bearing snacks and drinks, a very welcome site! Good thing, too. Streams and springs, normally running full and free, had been reduced to a trickle, if even wet. This would take a huge toll as each stage developed over the next few days.

That first day was memorable for the rocks. Big ones. Little ones. Slabs of rocks. Pointed ones. Flat ones. You name it. The going was tough and slow. The heat made it seem even more difficult. I was ecstatic to finally see a couple of the acclaimed wild ponies. But eventually, with time and patience, Rick and I ran into camp, howbeit hours behind the finishers. Supper was waiting and the evening dance of eating, refreshing, setting up camp, and getting packs filled for the next day would be rehearsed once again.

I set up my hammock and climbed inside. But not for long. The winds came up and a storm was brewing. I quickly threw the rain fly over my sleeping cocoon as the first drops fell. I had stayed warm and dry in a storm before and felt confident I would be safe and sound. Problem was, I didn't properly secure the rain fly. The driving rain, punctuated with howling winds, the sound of limbs breaking, and loud claps of thunder, found it's way under the fly. By 1 a.m., I was cold, drenched, and shivering, not having slept a wink. What to do? What to do? It was a wild dash for the support van where James was sleeping in the loft of the Vanagan and Adam was drying off in the back seat after a similar soaking in his hammock. Curling into a ball, I spent the next few hours in and out of cat naps. By 4:20 a.m., I gave up. I stepped into the early morning darkness and wet, gathered my things, and took the first lonely steps up the mountain.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Last things first: My failure

My feet hurt but there have been at least three times in the past when they hurt worse. My legs were okay, still obedient when I asked them to run. I never really bonked bad. On good ground, I made decent progress. Problem was, there wasn't much decent ground. The thought of being out there on the trail at snail's pace for sixteen or seventeen hours was revolting, especially knowing the others would likely be in their tents by the time I got through. And, to do this again and again for the next nine days? Well, It's hard to say "I'm done." But I did.

I suppose I could start from the beginning, telling you all about every last detail of my short-lived adventure.  (And I will. Only later.) But I am compelled to speak first of the decision day. Day five. The day I said those three (two if you count the contraction) fatal, final words.

The fifth day of the Tour de Virginia, the 568-mile brainchild of phenom ultrarunner Eric Grossman, started early, but not as early as I would have liked. I knew going into the event that I would be the slowest of the five runners. Given the choice, I moved my own start time on days earlier into the wee hours, hoping to hold off being passed by the more able runners as long as possible. However, on this particular morning, I started at 5:22 a.m. along with Anne Lundblad and Rob French. We were all staring into the face of a 46-mile day in extreme heat and humidity. On previous days we found nearly every spring and water source had gone dry and expected more of the same. But that wasn't my only problem.

I felt sullen and alone the prior evening. The second half of the fourth stage went wrong. A blister deep under the ball of my left foot developed, making each step on the rocky ground painful. By the time I reached the end, I had again been on my feet and moving for over thirteen hours. Though a few other blisters appeared, it was the forefoot that made it nearly impossible to bear any weight. The thought of 46 miles by dawn's early light seemed impossible.

Then there was the issue of dehydration. Three times I awoke that night, prying apart my dry lips and hobbling to find dozens of ounces of water to quench the thirst. On two stages I had stopped sweating in the record temperatures. That couldn't be good. And sleep? What sleep? In the last five days, I had slept 2-4 hours at most per night. Something had to give.

My goal coming into this adventure was to be positive and  upbeat, like Anne Lundblad, always the optimist. I didn't do such a great job at that during the South Beyond 6000 event three years ago and didn't want to repeat that poor attitude. But even with much resolve, it was a struggle to see through the current challenges. I massaged my feet in the night, hoping to stimulate them back to the land of the living. I came up with a scheme for protecting the forefoot. I downed calories in preparation and packed more than normal volumes of liquid and food. Then, with the click of my stopwatch, the countdown began.

It was not long before the other four runners were out in front. It was going to be a long, lonely day--again. I knew the decision to start the stage was a decision to finish the stage. There was no support along the way. No one to pick me up. I was on my own come what may.

After several hours, the trail found it's way down into the town of Pearisburg. Though still early, the sun scorched me. I felt wilted and limp, much like the crops in untended gardens along the way. I even knocked on someone's front door to ask for ice water. It was only 8:30 a.m. but I was already coming undone. Thankfully, an unexpected pleasure of ripened blackberries along the narrow path provided temporary distraction.

Crossing the New River bridge, I pulled my phone from it's protective pouch and dialed Gary's number. "It will be a miracle if I finish today." I tried hard not to cry knowing he would worry. Still, I had no choice but to continue.

Not long afterwards, on a steep and rocky climb leading out of town, the skies broke into the conversation I was having with myself with thunderous claps and lightning strikes too close for comfort. Then the rain and the wind came. Instantly, my molten feeling turned into shivering. I had prayed to God for relief but felt this was a little overkill. Am I never satisfied?

Thankfully, the storm did not last long. Like a little bug, I drank from water-filled depressions in rocks. I couldn't count on springs and streams further up the trail. I would take anything. "OK, God. I am grateful for the relief and this extra water." I moved on.

Once atop a ridge line, I hiked and hiked, ran a little, and hiked some more. The hours piled up higher than some of the rock formations. Often, I glanced at my laminated card to see how far it was to the next landmark; perhaps a shelter or intersecting trail. But when I became discouraged at how long it took to get to the next destination, I pulled it out less often.

Before this adventure, I told myself I could get to the end by patiently hiking. How hard would it be to walk for twelve or fourteen or sixteen hours a day? Well, it was hard. Hard to be patient and hard to keep hiking. I realized I wasn't enjoying this. I wondered how David Horton and Jennifer Pharr-Davis did this for weeks on end. I knew to expect sore feet and blisters. I knew to expect down times. I knew I shouldn't make rash decisions. And yet, I knew that I really didn't want to do this for the next nine days. Perhaps I loved the ideal of the adventure more than I was capable of completing this one.

Finally, I got to the intersection of the Allegheny Trail. Five years prior I set a speed record on that trail. This was the southern terminus and I became emotional as I neared the sign. I was alone at the end in 2007 just I was alone now. Even my camera battery left me stranded back then. I snapped a picture this time.

Eighteen miles remained. The descents hurt my feet more than the climbs. As I marched on, I felt as though I was stuck in a time and distance warp. It didn't seem like I was making any progress. Each time I took out that blasted data card, the numbers just didn't work out. I tried calculating how much longer. Six hours. No, seven hours. Five hours? Still five hours? I was confused. Nothing made sense. Was I really moving forward? When I cried, I scolded myself. "Stop that. It's not doing any good. Just keep going." I did.

I knew I had to get to a road crossing before the final seven or eight miles; Mountain Lake Road, Route 613. That was my new goal. "Lord," I prayed outloud, "Could you please put it on someone's heart to be at that intersection? I don't want to be out here for another three or four hours." I had no one in mind. Anyone would do. But what were the chances, oh ye of little faith?.

Several miles later, a tiny sparkle of water caught my eye. I stepped off the trail to take in much needed water. As I glanced up, a t-shirt clad runner bounded toward me, wife and dog a short way behind. "Hi," I called out. He turned, startled to see me.

"Hey, you wouldn't happen to be Rebekah Trittipoe, would you? I'm Kirby." Huh? I could hardly believe it.  I had put a link to his race on my website but we had never met. How he made the connection, I'll probably never know.

We spoke for a few minutes about my race. I mentioned I had decided to call it quits. "Well, if you need a ride, we'll take you. We were planning to run a half-mile more. If you want to wait, we'll meet you at the road."

"How far is the road?" I quarried.

"Maybe a half-mile." Wow. My journey would soon be over.

It was not long before I arrived at the mountain-top road, a lonely, empty parking lot (save Kirby's car) off to the side. Once the couple returned, I climbed in the back seat and started chatting with my saviors. The road down the mountain was very long and twisted. "That sure seems like a long way to go for a two-mile evening run," I offered, curious about their choice of venue.

"Yeah. We seldom come up here. Not really sure why we chose to come tonight. But the grandparents are watching our daughter and we ended up here."

I knew why they came and told them so. There's no doubt. God directly answered my prayer. Jehovah Jireh. God does provide.

After a deep, cleansing sleep, I can't say I have not second-guessed my decision to abort the Tour. Maybe I could have started another day. But then again, maybe the 102 temps would have done me in as much as my still-swollen feet. Doing this with no support during the day makes a difficult task even more challenging. Rob French also abandoned the effort yesterday. I am getting older. I don't recover as well as I used to. In those five days, I spent more than twleve hours more on the trail than the leader. That's like a whole other day for me. So, it is what it is. There will be no more triumphant finish line for me.

Do I regret starting? No. I would rather start and fail than never to have begun.

A walk in the park and a pink finish line

By the time I finish most races, I've figured out at least the first paragraph of my post-race story. This was one of the few where the ...