Some things are important enough that you’re willing to make sacrifices. In fact, I’ll go a step further. Things become important as you make sacrifices for them.
Take, for example, doing a big endurance event, like a trail marathon out in the middle of nowhere. You know, like the Death Valley Trail Marathon.
You have to train for it for months. You have to clear a minimum of three days off your schedule: one to get there, one for the race, and one to get home. And in my case, I had to push my co-workers to finish a project half a day earlier than I usually would, so I could get out of the conference room we had lived in in Boston and take a late night flight home.
My co-workers were cool with it though; they knew this was important to me. They were happy to start working a little earlier each day and finishing a little later each day.
And my son was happy to come home from college and take care of his brother and sisters for the weekend. It was a good opportunity for him do something nice for The Hammer and me, even though he’s close to the end of the semester and busy with his school work.
With every sacrifice, the race became a little more important.
The Day Before
Some people hate traveling. I am not one of those people. For one thing, the BikeMobile is a great car even when it doesn’t have any bikes in it. Sure, it’s a truck, but on the freeway it may as well be an Accord.
More importantly, though, one of The Hammer’s super powers is in snack preparation for road trips. Bagels, trail mix, enough Diet Coke for a small army, or for the two of us.
The Hammer read Slaying the Badger aloud as I drove. We stopped in St. George, about the halfway point, and shipped a box with five copies of Comedian Mastermind to Johan Bruyneel, to get them signed by Team RadioShack at their Training Camp in Spain this week. $172 for shipping. For that much money, I would hope the books would get their own seat — albeit in economy class — on a plane, and get offered drinks and peanuts along the way.
The final couple hours of the drive are surreal. I’m just not used to such flat, straight stretches of road.
It’s like a Road Runner cartoon.
Once in Death Valley, we checked into our room and then went to what is pretty much the only restaurant around — as did every other racer. As The Hammer and I got up to go, we met another couple. The woman’s name is Lisa (@runlikeacoyote), and it turns out she’s the one who won the Madone I gave away in the fundraiser for my nephew Dallas a while back.
I don’t know if I ever mentioned this in the blog, but Lisa had — instead of keeping the bike for herself — given it to my sister Kellene. “I’m more of a mountain biker,” Lisa told me. She’s also kind of an insane athletic powerhouse; she and the guy she was with were planning on running the Death Valley Trail Marathon and then — the following day — running another marathon in Las Vegas.
The alarm on my phone went off at 5:30. We had 45 minutes to get ready, lounge around and — frankly — poop before going to pick up our race numbers. The Hammer got first dibs on the bathroom, so I sat in bed and looked at email.
“Oh no,” I shouted.
“What’s wrong?” The Hammer called out.
“The race has been canceled,” I said. “Due to wind.” At 4:30 in the morning, the race organizer had sent out an email, saying that dangerously high winds made the race impossible.
Because I had nothing better to do, though, at 6:15 I went over to the building where they otherwise would have given us our race packets.
The race director came out and said, “The winds make this race too dangerous. There are 70mph gusts at the top of the mountain, so we’ve had to cancel the race. We’ll be sending out an email giving you credit toward some future event.”
And just like that, there was no race.
We were told we could pick up our race numbers and shirts. I had sprung for both the t-shirts and tech-t’s for The Hammer and me, and so I collected four shirts for a race that wouldn’t happen.
And to add insult to injury, the shirts (both the regular shirts and the tech-t’s) were exactly the same as the ones we had gotten when we did the race two years ago. Not even a year change. Which, I suppose, is very efficient and easy for the race organizer, but kind of sucky for the racers who like to get a t-shirt as a wearable memento of a particular event.
Do It Anyway
As I walked back toward my hotel room, my initial reaction was to trust the race director. That would be a hard call to make, and he almost certainly had more information than I did. Right?
But by the time I got back to the room — about five minutes — I had changed my mind.
“I think the race director gave up too easily,” I told The Hammer. “I don’t think he does big endurance events himself. I don’t think he understands the sacrifice we’ve made to get here. I don’t think he considered that people who picked this particular event don’t just accept the risk of a hard race and bad weather, we see it as part of the adventure.”
The Hammer agreed. “Why cancel it? Why not make it a half marathon (which was one of the race options anyway), starting us at the end of the course, into Titus canyon, and then turning around? We’d be protected from the wind that way. That would be at least something.”
“Well, I guess we could do that on our own,” I said.
“Let’s go,” said The Hammer.
We drove out to the Titus Canyon parking lot…and were surprised to see that there were dozens and dozens of cars there.
Apparently, we weren’t the only ones to decide that the weather didn’t warrant a cancellation of the event.
The two hundred yards or so we ran before getting into the incredibly steep, narrow Titus Canyon was indeed windy, though I wouldn’t have called it dangerously windy. More like “inconveniently” windy.
And then, once into the canyon, the wind died down, and the Hammer and I started enjoying a run in one of the most incredibly beautiful, stark, steep canyons you could ever imagine.
“Well, at least since this isn’t a race, there’s nothing to stop us from using iPods,” said The Hammer. And I couldn’t have agreed more. On a bike, I can take or leave music. When running, it’s downright critical.
Our plan was to run up — and I definitely want to underscore the “up” part of “up” here — for 6.5 miles, turn around, and run back to the BikeMobile.
Every couple of minutes, we’d encounter another group of runners, sometimes passing, sometimes coming the other direction. We’d smile and wave: Hey, nice job doing a run in this highly treacherous, dangerously windy canyon!
Discarded jackets lay everywhere (including mine). Too warm. We’d pick them up on the way back.
I was suffering, but in silence. I was telling myself, “OK, Fatty” (for sometimes I do call myself “Fatty”), “just keep it together ’til the turnaround, and then it’s all downhill. The Hammer doesn’t need to know that you’re having a bad day. You don’t need to tell her the excuses you’re cooking up in your head: not much time to train lately, no exercise at all this past week, seasonal weight gain making it hard to run uphill, etc., etc., etc.”
Which was when The Hammer turned toward me and said, brightly, “This is such a fun run! Let’s go further!”
I literally — not figuratively, but literally literally — stopped in my tracks.
Now, I don’t usually say words in anger, because I am not an angry person. I am, in fact, one of those people who just doesn’t get mad often. I’m not boasting when I say that I am a cheerful person. It’s just how I am.
But when The Hammer said this, I got mad.
“I’ve told you before how much I hate it when you change the running route in the middle of the run!” I said, in what passes for my angry voice. “You know how that messes with my mind!”
“Oh, don’t be such a grouch,” The Hammer replied. “This is a beautiful run, and I want to see more of this canyon.”
“We’ll see all of the good part of the canyon in the 6.5 miles we agreed to,” I said, with maximum surliness. “But I’ll agree to changing the turn around point to seven miles.”
“OK, seven miles,” said The Hammer. “Now, stop being a grump. This is a beautiful run.”
And she was right.
Or at least, she was right until we came out of the steepest part of the canyon about six miles into the run. The wind suddenly became fierce, and the road continued to be steeply uphill. It slowed me to a walk a couple of times.
I thought about how difficult it would have been for me to finish a complete marathon, though I don’t want you to mistake this for me being grateful the marathon had been canceled. If I’m weak, I want it exposed. If I’m going to suffer, I want to be able to tell the story of my suffering, not have that story taken away from me.
If it’s going to be windy, I want to deal with the wind or be turned around by it, not have that choice made for me by someone who doesn’t understand.
More than ever, I became convinced that the race organizer had just given up — taken an easy way out — rather than try to find a way to respect what racers bring to this kind of a race, and what we’ve sacrificed to be here.
And I made up an “If I Were King” rule:
Race Organizers Must Regularly Participate In The Kind of Race They Promote, Lest They Begin Just Phoning It In.
But enough soapboxing. For now.
The Hammer and I struggled for that mile. She got to the turnaround point about thirty seconds before I did, turned around and smiled at me as I very slowly ran to her. She hugged me and said, “Seven miles was plenty.”
We turned around and started running down, with a powerful tailwind combining with a steep downhill pushing us hard. At times, it felt like all my effort was going into braking.
I felt better, running downhill, which is probably the least surprising thing I have ever written. The miles flew by and I felt good enough to admire the incredible beauty of Titus Canyon.
Then the canyon abruptly ends — seriously, one moment you’re in it, with cliffs rising straight up on either side of you, the next moment you’re out — and we were back at The BikeMobile.
It was a good run. I was beat, and happily spent the rest of the day seeing some of the local sights, reading with The Hammer, and laying around.
But I can’t help but wish knowing how — or whether — I’d have finished a marathon that day.