[Listen to an audio version of this blog here.]
I like doing races I've never done before, so when I got an email that I'd made it off the wait list for Black Canyon, I instantly signed up. I've heard a lot about Black Canyon: the technical terrain, the fast start, the possibility of inclement weather. It's a point-to-point course with stunning views and it's 95% single track. If you ever have the chance to do this race, jump on it.
Like everyone said, the race started fast. A downhill start and cool temps made it impossible to not start quick. I felt good, and the first ~20 miles slid by easily. At the 20 mile aid station, I felt what I thought was my toenail falling off, but it was actually just a blister. I popped it and an onlooker said, "that's just going to get worse, it's getting hot." I didn't answer. Easy for him to say.
When I run far, I usually don't listen to music or wear headphones, preferring to let my mind wander. Sometimes my brain settles on some song lyrics, playing them over and over again. Sometimes, like last weekend, I think about a poem I've written and committed to memory. The one that I couldn't stop thinking about is titled, How to Talk About The Weather in a Gas Station in Nevada.
say it's warm, but not too warm
say it's a dry heat
say you can feel your demons
exorcising themselves from the bottoms of your feet
burning on the pavement, that'll brighten any day
say the sun feels like it's on cocaine, it's always awake
does it ever get cold in Nevada?
After I left the 20 mile aid station, I started noticing the heat. I wound my way up and down a rocky single track trail, letting people pass only to pass them minutes later. The next big aid station, where I would see my crew, was mile 37. I intentionally ignored my watch, and kept drinking water. At one point, I ran with a guy named Jeff, who lived in the area and trained on the course. "There's a climb to the next aid station," he told me, "then it kind of goes downhill before another big climb." I thought about ice and cold watermelon and winters back home in Wisconsin.
let them say yes, let them tell you about midnight
when lizards crawl beneath rocks to hide
let them tell you how nice a fire feels when the sun goes down
make a joke about the locals
who crave fire in the sky and in a whiskey glass
comment on the cacti, the miles of dirt and dust
how nothing rusts in the desert
how you went off-roading once
when Google maps took you on a shortcut to avoid the traffic from L.A.
the air is cooler by the coast but Nevada has the vices
the guns and smoke
there is no place on earth
as warm and mad and sad all at once
When I arrived at the mile 37 aid station in Black Canyon city, I saw my boyfriend Mike and a group of friends, cheering me on. I could barely smile at them. My friend Laura came to my side, "What do you need?" she asked. I didn't know. I was feeling miserable, but I knew that the misery would, should, eventually pass. Laura filled a bottle with electrolytes, I stuffed some nutrition in my vest, and continued on. A few miles later, I was feeling better. I forced myself to eat, drank my electrolytes, and started passing people as we climbed. As I passed two men, my hand brushed against a cactus and my fingers were dotted with needles. I pulled them out as I hiked uphill, tiny specks of blood slowly surfacing.
and the cacti look like question marks
dotting the empty desert page
the earth in Nevada is like a poem, you could say
and even though the bottoms of your shoes
are melting into asphalt
and the air is miraging
and the gas station smells like sweat and beer
you could say you feel at home here
in the vast hot nothingness
where lovers run to get married on the strip
where lawns are dotted with rocks instead of grass
where overpasses make portraits in the sky
where the night inspires life
and the daytime feels like a daydream
The stretch between Black Canyon City and the next aid station was almost nine miles, the longest gap between aid, and for many runners, during the hottest part of the day. The heat made the day harder, but I wasn't thinking about the heat very much. I wasn't thinking about anything, really, the words of my poem bouncing around my brain. I took a Tylenol to dull the aching in my feet. I finally peed. By the time I got to the next aid station I'd been out of water for miles. I drank heavily while an aid station worker poured ice water over me. The next aid station would be at mile 50, and Mike would be there. As I continued, I started feeling worse, and I would soon hit my lowest moment.
yeah man, it’s warm but it’s not so bad
more of a dry heat, you could say
just wait until nighttime when the stars finally dance
maybe ask how many stars there are
let’s say a billion
let’s notice how nice it is to see a burning thing that doesn’t singe our skin
sure it’s warm, but we’re floating on a boulder in infinite everything
and there’s a little girl with pink Mary Janes
and chocolate on her face
who doesn’t notice the heat because she’s living in the daydream of the desert
she knows to ask the cacti for correct punctuation
she knows where the lizards go to sleep at night
she knows that if the stars are burning then nothing can hurt quite as bad as it could
this life is so big it’s astounding
When I got to mile 50, I was dizzy (probably from dehydration). I sat down, avoiding food and water. I couldn't understand why I felt so sick all of a sudden. There was a row of porta potties near the aid station. "I need a minute," I told Mike, and went inside one to throw up. If you've never thrown up in a porta potty, you've not yet lived. I spent nearly 20 minutes at that aid station collecting myself, then filled up my water and kept moving. My goal time went out the window and I figured I could power hike if I needed to. I walked about half a mile and started feeling better, so I started running. Again, the pain cave gave way, like it always does.
and the fact that we’re here
making pleasant conversation is a testament to us
the thermometer outside has been broken for weeks
maybe it’s the heat, you could say
so hot it burned up the mercury
so stale the air crinkles like tissue paper
and skin turns red as an ember
say it’s warm, but not too warm
a dry heat, at the very least
By now, my poem had been bouncing around my brain for hours, and it was becoming intolerable. I put my headphones in and found music to distract me. I started feeling even better. And by the time I hit the last aid station, I felt like I could run all night. The sun was almost gone, and I pulled out a headlight for the last few miles. Mike had gone to the finish and ran toward me, so we ran the last three miles together. I'm not sure what we talked about, but I do remember seeing bright lights in the distance, "Is that the finish?" I asked, "Mike, tell me that's the finish." And it was.
1. Eat and drink early and often. Staying on top of hydration before it gets hot definitely helped. I also took these salt tabs every hour or so.
2. Apply and reapply sunscreen. I applied sunscreen four times, and I wasn't burnt (just very tan).
3. Train for the conditions. I did a long 50K training run a few weeks back with my friend Andrea on an exposed, rocky trail. It was the perfect training run for a hot, rocky 100K.
4. Cool down any way you can. I dunked my hat in streams and put ice in my bladder to take the bite out of the hot day.
5. Keep moving. Walking is faster than stopping. Any forward motion is better than none.
6. The pain cave doesn't last forever. Be grateful for every moment you get to be on the trail, doing the thing you absolutely love.