A Note from Fatty: This is part three. Three shall come right after two, and right before four. Except there is no part four, nor shall there be. Part Two comes right after part one, and before three. Part one, meanwhile, is the first part and has no part before it, although part two comes after part one. Five is right out.
As I left the first aid station — right at about six miles — I looked behind me. Somehow I had stayed ahead of The Hammer, which scared me. I knew that she knows much more about running long races than I do, so being ahead of her after the flat section made me wonder whether I had gone too hard and was destined to blow up in short order.
If so, The Hammer would catch — and pass — me for sure. But if I kept going, trying to stay at — but not above — my limit, well, maybe she’d catch me and we’d finish together?
It was worth a shot.
A Greeting As If Across A Chasm
You might remember this graphic from the end of my part 2 post:
From this, it looks like immediately after the six-mile aid station the course shoots straight uphill. But that’s not the case. From mile 6 to about 7.5, it’s uphill, but not egregiously so. I closed in on and even passed a couple of the downhill speed demons.
“You’ll get me in the end,” I said. “The final four miles is all downhill.”
“But first,” I concluded, as I went by, “You’re going to have to climb Dry Canyon.”
The trail curved around, hugging the mountain’s contours. Sometimes you couldn’t see anyone; sometimes you could see folks way ahead of you. At one of these points, I looked back, hoping I’d see The Hammer come around a bend.
And there she was. Even better, she apparently was looking ahead and saw me at the same moment. I waved an arm overhead back and forth, in the universal sign for, “Hey it’s me, your husband! I’m over here!” The Hammer replied with a, “Whooooooo!”
I fought the urge to back down and try to finish the race with her, knowing that if we ran together, it’d slow both of our races down: I’d have to slow down during the climbs, she’d have to slow down when I inevitably bonked. This way was better: I was her carrot. She was my stick.
So I kept going.
At about mile 8 – 8.5 I hit the crux of the run: Dry Canyon. This sharply uphill section actually begins with “steps” — 1.5’-tall gravel beams acting as retaining steps. These brought everyone (including me) to a walk.
Once I was past those steps, though, I resolved to not walk any more of the climb. As I “ran” up this section, though, I wondered what constituted “running.” Was it moving your arms in a running-style motion? Speed? Putting your feet up and down in a certain way?
I suspect that by some definitions of running, what I was doing qualified. By others…probably not. Whatever you name it, though, I was picking up my feet and putting them down in front of each other more quickly than if I were walking, although with very small steps.
And I was passing people, so there’s that.
As I caught and passed Phineas, for example, he said, “Have you lost your mind? Why are you running this climb?”
“It’s the only kind of running I’m any good at,” I replied, truthfully.
I was hurting as I got to the second—and last—aid station at around mile 9 (where the marathon route rejoined the half-marathon route), but in a good way. In a way that I thought I could probably sustain. At least for a little while longer.
And I did. I got to the summit. An occasion so happy and momentous that when The Swimmer and I had gotten there on our pre-run of the course a couple weeks earlier, we took a selfie.
From now on, it was just coasting downhill for the rest of the run, right?
All Downhill From Here
In cycling, going fast downhill is more a matter of courage than anything else. If you don’t grab the brakes, you’re going to go. (Until, suddenly, you don’t.)
In running, this is not true. Because I was trying to go fast downhill. Really giving it my all. For the first time that day, in fact, I started getting a side ache from the exertion.
In spite of all this, people passed me. Often and easily. Taking extraordinarily strong, long, sure, bounding strides down rocky singletrack.
In trail running, downhill speed is a whole new level of both fitness and grace (neither which I possess). All I could do was move aside, admire them, and shout encouragement and appreciation.
“I appreciate you!” I never shouted, because that would be weird. Also, I never shouted, “You should be encouraged!” because that would be nearly as weird.
I just thought you should know, in case you ever choose to run a foot race.
I found myself at the iconic Pile of Rocks cairn, a known-by-all juncture in the Frank trail network:
This photo was taken during a pre-run, not during the race itself, although I wore the exact same clothes during the race, so I’m not sure why I’m not pretending that this photo was taken during the race. OK I CHANGED MY MIND; IT WAS TAKEN DURING THE RACE.
Once I was at the Pile of Rocks, I knew I was on the homestretch. Like, just three miles to go. “You’re at the home stretch,” I told myself. “Just three or so miles to go.”
Phineas ran by me, lightly and easily. I’d never see him again ’til the finish line, where he finished well ahead of me. Kids.
Several more people ran by me, also lightly, also easily.
I wondered if I was slowing.
I made it to the high road, which meant a half mile or so of running on flat dirt road, and then — then! — the final mile to the finish line.
But I had a problem: I was cooked. Done. Blown. Demolished and destroyed. And so forth.
Running in slow-ish motion (as witnessed by the numerous people who were running by me in not-slow motion), I plodded to the hairpin turn, signaling more downhill singletrack.
This was where, a few weeks earlier, The Hammer and I had seen a couple of these guys, no more than twenty feet from us:
OK, maybe it was fifty feet. But it seemed like 20.
Anyways, there were no cool bighorn sheep staring me down on this run.
And more to the point, I was tired of running. I was tired, period. “What if,” I thought to myself, “I just slow to a walk for a couple of minutes. Just ’til The Hammer catches up with me. Then we could finish this thing together.”
It sounded like a great idea when I put it to myself that way. But I knew better. Knew it was a terrible idea. Because I had already — back in the 6 Hours in Frog Hollow — seen what it’s like to back off during a race. And while it’s not like it was the end of the world, it also wasn’t a pattern I was very interested in establishing.
So I put my head down, figuratively (because it was already down, literally), and started talking to myself. “You can be strong for one more mile, Fatty,” I said. “Ten minutes or less. All downhill. One. More. Mile.”
I kept going. Decided I wouldn’t stop, not ’til the finish line. That I’d go harder, if I could.
And at that moment, I won whatever I was going to win in this race.
The steep singletrack dumped back onto the dirt road. The same one we had started this race on. Just two hours ago. Forever ago. Same thing.
At the moment I started running down this road — this last half or third or whatever of a mile — a woman with a thick red braid zoomed by me, patting me on the shoulder as she flew by. (Going by way too fast, as far as I was concerned — if she was so fast, why hadn’t she passed me long ago? Why had I seen her at all during this race?)
“Let’s finish this strong,” she shouted cheerfully as she ran by at full blast.
“Well, that’s an idea,” I though. “I wonder if I could do that.” I stepped it up. And up And up.
And in short, for the final half a mile, I ran at a seven minute / mile pace.
Another woman pipped me at the line, but I didn’t care (at least, not very much). I had beaten my best estimate — 2:10 — by a whole minute. 2:09.
I took a picture of my legs to commemorate the occasion:
I went over to the picnic table to pick up my t-shirt and medal, then back toward the finish line to watch The Hammer cross the finish line.
But by then, she already had. A scant two minutes after I finished. And while I felt like I was going to die, she felt like this:
And she won this:
First place in her age group. One week after she took third place in her age group in the Ogden Marathon. I swear, we’re going to have to get a bigger trophy case for this woman.
The Hammer picked up her medal and t-shirt, and then we walked back to the car to change into some less-sweaty shirts, with the intent that we’d then come back and maybe work our way up the trail a little bit, then run to the finish line with the Swimmer when she finished.
Except by the time we got back to the finish line, The Swimmer had already finished (just fifteen minutes after me).
Which meant we were three for three: none of us saw any of us finish.
In the end, The Hammer got first in her age group, The Swimmer got second in her age group, and I got…redemption. (And sixth in my age group.)
Not a bad day.
You know, considering we were running.