The old phrase goes – How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. So how do you tell a 7 day adventure story? One little blog post at a time. It’s a bit overwhelming to tell the journey of 160 miles across a desert and it also feels pretty self-indulgent too. After all, this is a ‘company blog’ and shouldn’t I be blogging about ‘company things’? And yet, Run Pretty Far is the story of a women’s running journey and the colorful adventure of life – and in the end my little ‘ol experiences are what fuels each single nook and cranny of this biz, so I suppose this is the rightful home for my Jordan stories.
That said, I’m tucking them kind of ‘out of the way’ in a new category called: Adventures in Jordan 2012. Peruse if you wish and if it’s not your cup of tea – I still love you!
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The night before the long march, we were sitting in the tent, minding our own business. Doing what adventure racers do in the evening – eating freeze dried food, lancing blisters, reading course notes for the next day – when out of nowhere, the winds picked up and the dust started blowing. Red, thick sand and dust covering everything. The wind was instantly annoying, but I assumed it would only last a minute and I could go back to carefully taping my toes – after all, didn’t the weather know we had a big day tomorrow? Minutes turned into a half hour and the red grit kept coming. Several tents were flattened and the newly homeless racers started wondering around like vagabonds looking for cheap real estate.
As evening wore on the reality of being in a full force dust storm started to take hold. Each time a new gust would blow the wooden poles in our tent threatened to fall and the guys would jump up to steady them. I think I remember Howard yelling, “Man the poles!” as a gust was coming and the guys would hop up like sailors at sea to secure the ship. It was wonderfully epic and completely comical at the same time. But the truth is chivalry is not dead and I was very grateful to have them there.
We laughed at the absurdity of it all, but I do remember thinking, “Ok, this is just about enough adventure in my adventure race… can’t they make it stop now?” Oh right, this is not the ‘Hunger Games’. There’s no computer manipulating this storm, just good old God making it blow. Slowly and pitifully we all acquiesced that the red earth was going to keep on dumping down and we surrendered to our sleeping bags. It’s a surreal feeling to huddle in and drift under as the world is churning around you.
As I fell asleep, I thought to myself, “well, we’re certainly not in Kansas anymore” and then chuckled because the Wizard of Oz had been much on my mind before leaving the U.S. for the race. My last images of the night were of the Wicked Witch flying by on her bike as Dorothy’s world turns upside down.
In the morning, I tried to shake off the sand and some major grumpiness. My last pair of pristine rainbow injinji toe socks that I had been saving all week for the long day were now covered in red funk. Oh well, get over it and get moving. The ‘long march’ is the big banana and the first 4 days really just feel like some kind of prolonged foreplay getting ready for this event. As we moved through the morning rituals some people tossed around possible finish times, but most people kept their projected times a bit close to the vest. After talking strategy with Howard and Jack, my goal was to finish by midnight, but secretly I thought that seemed a bit slow. How could it possibly take 16 hours? 50 milers in the past have taken me about 10 hours…
From what we knew of the terrain, I had broken in out into 3 manageable sections: long canyon, then BIG hill, then road. My strategy was to manage myself through the worst heat of the day (2-5pm), kick ass on the hill, then give it everything I had on the last runnable road sections. I must have told Jack 3 times that morning, “I’m not scared”. And frankly, I wasn’t. I was so very ready to get going and eat that elephant, one bite at a time, spit fired over a BBQ pit for lunch.
A couple hours later, the only thing cooking was us. That canyon was the devil’s own personal wood fired oven. Sweat and sand and determination baking together in a long, hot, gruel. Grown men were looking for tiny rock overhangs of shade to rest for 20 seconds and let their blood come back down from a boil.
We finally came to a section of spectacular red rocky stairs and it seemed like perhaps we were starting to climb out of the canyon (we weren’t). I looked down and realized we had hit the rainbow sand section that I had watched Carlos talk about so many months ago. We walked through yellow sand, hot pink sand, scarlet sand, and deep, dark purple sand. I was absolutely mesmerized by this sand palette – little pockets and pools of rich, intense color. Maybe because I tend to live in an imaginary world or perhaps because of the Wizard of Oz dust storm the night before, but all I could think of was the Wicked Witch of the West riding through the sky on her broom, cackling as she spelled ‘Surrender Dorothy’ in purple smoke. That purple sand seemed to taunt me, “I’ll get you my pretty…”It was then I realized this was RTP and there was no way they were going to let this be an ‘easy 50 miler’. They were going to throw everything they could possibly find at us. So I just shook my head and cackled right back at that purple sand. Good thing I tend to trek alone or the other racers might think I had finally lost it.
When we did finally leave the canyon, it was time to tackle section two – an uphill climb for the ages. I believe that first climb was roughly 8km of straight up steep on a sandy, hot, unending jeep road. Each peak brought another peak and (quite literally) there was no end in sight. Way, way up you could see tiny dots of racers miles ahead of you – and they too were still climbing. After the first hour of vertical, I adopted a mountain climbing gait which employs the ‘rest step’ to save energy. I really don’t know how many hours I spent on that mountain, but I remember laughing at the absurdity of being sent through the Devil’s canyon only to climb up to Heaven.
I thought of Krissy Moehl’s blog from her recent Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim crossing with Devon Crosby-Helms. As they made their final ascent up and out of the canyon, she writes of some advice she received:
On our ride over to the start I played a voicemail from my friend Roch giving us key pieces of advice. (the first three tips from previous pacing experiences) 1) reminding me of the magnet in my chest that will pull me back out of the canyon 2) every step is a good step 3) run like you stole something 4) note that every step down into the canyon is covering about 20,000 years, take your time 5) then leave all your worries and bad energies that you want to leave behind in the river to be washed away to sea. All of these made us smile, and the last played into my life and mindset like I didn’t know it could… it also became a very personal journey for me….Roch’s last bit of advice, to leave my troubles and bad energy in the river to be swept away to sea, became a personal focus to help me make my next conscious move and life focus.
In my diluted mind I conflated all of Roch’s advice and made my own mixed wisdom which was: with each step up, I left a little more of my heavy worry, sadness, anger, and fear behind me down there in canyon, with each step out I became lighter as I shred that useless baggage, and with each step forward the journey got just a little easier and more free. It’s easy to be metaphysical out there in the desert – what choice do you have?
When I finally summited, after hours of repeating these mantras to myself, Nicole Kidman was belting “Come What May” from Moulin Rouge in my ears. Here are the lyrics she sang to me:
Never knew I could feel like this, like I’ve never seen the sky before…Listen to my heart, can you hear it sing?… And there’s no mountain too high, No river too wide…Sing out this song and I’ll be there by your side…
Suddenly the world seems such a perfect place, Suddenly it moves with such a perfect grace…Suddenly my life doesn’t seem such a waste…And I love you… until the end of time…
Raw with emotion, I looked out over all of the Middle East with a clear view of Palestine and crying happily, I decided right then and there, there is absolutely nothing I can’t do. I belted that love song at the top of my lungs and it was definitely a love song to myself.
And it was a good thing I felt so damn confident, because the day (and the climbing) were just getting started. Highlights from the next 6 hours? The most beautiful sunset I’ve ever seen, putting on my ‘mom’ voice to scold the local kids who were stealing the glow sticks/course markers, putting on my ‘don’t mess with me’ voice to scold the local teenage boys who were considering hassling me as I marched through a town (another reason poles come in handy, I jabbed mine at the hoodlums), rabid dogs barking at me, donkeys and camels popping up out of nowhere to startle me, and finally running into Carlos (the sexy devil who designs these courses) in the pitch black and introducing myself for the first time. I believe I may have complained that rocky, technical single track on the side of a cliff was a little treacherous in the middle of the night, to which he responded in his uber sexy Spanish accent, “Well, ahh, if you want something a little easier, perhaps you should run the New York Marathon next time”. Oh no he didn’t just say that to me.
As I pulled into the last checkpoint before camp, about 52 miles in with about 4 to go, my right calf was swollen to full tree trunk mode. It hurt something fierce, but I had learned how to work around it over the last 16 hours. The Dr at the checkpoint confirmed that it needed to get on antibiotics, but he didn’t have any there. No problem I said, I’ll grab them when I get to camp. Which is when the kind, considerate volunteer looked at my leg and sweetly asked, “Do you think you can make it to camp or do you need a ride?” I think I must have looked at her like she was speaking Swahili. 2 years, 1 month, and just 4 miles short of redemption from dropping out of RTP Australia. Um no… I think I’m all set on finishing this, thanks.
Something about that innocent, yet ridiculous question lit a fire under me and I loved every second of that last section. I wanted to run and run forever in the cool night, reeling in people that had spent their legs in the sun. Our final campsite was there before I knew it though and I collapsed in our tent in a happy heap – tired, elated, and satisfied that I had completed the ‘long march’.