the race

I’m writing from  the Opposite House in Beijing.  Look it up online NOW.  It contrasts in the most beautiful way to a week spent in Mongolia.  Utterly inspired and pared down to the barest of referencing the landscape.

So.  The race began at 4am, Wednesday. At 3am the sound of a flute carried through the gers  invoking the sounds of horses galloping through the forests. Wake up call Mongolia style.  Head lamps piercing the darkness, about 75 of us jittered about in front of the start.  After a rather unofficious countdown we were suddenly off, into the trees, along a meadowed path full of bunch grasses and medicinal flowering plants and a horseman clomping through the trees alongside the trail.  We walk for 1/2 and hour before starting to run.  Dee had sprained her ankle two days earlier on an easy 50 minute run so we were trying to take care that she would finish this race.  Once onto the compressed dirt and gravel road we kicked it in and kept a moderate pace for the next 10 k or so.  At the first aid station I ate salted potatoes and fresh apples (the first fresh fruit I’d had all week). Bayarlalaa, thank you, roll the r and slur the rest of it.

The first of the two climbs came as a shock to my lungs.  I’ve had a good year as far as illness goes with no pneumonia to get in the way and still I found myself unable to push as hard as my muscles wanted because my lungs just couldn’t get the air in.  I think I’ll stop being so stubborn about the inhaler now.  Dee was feeling no pain so ahead she would go and wait for me, poor gal, at various bends in the road.  Yes, road.  The first mountain we hoofed up had a steeply switch-backed road to the top. Easy footing and more distracting dang wild flowers everywhere.   My demons were already doing a number on me and it took much energy to keep them at bay.  How could I have trained so well, going to Tahoe for a few altitude runs, always keeping to the schedule, pilates, yoga blah blah blah and still find myself lagging behind where I would have liked to be? No matter because finally we arrive at the top of the mountain to views of the mountains, massive piles of shale, beyond.  The color of the stone, sodden grey and heavy looking.


We run past occasional solitary horsemen taking note of our numbers and times.  Now down the mountain and I’m ready to run but we maintain a careful pace for Dee’s ankle.  We link arms with Zvone the veteran 100k-er for a moment and then carry on.  We shake off the Frenchwoman, Claire, who had told me that she didn’t really train but didn’t find the race all that hard.  This attitude did not improve my own growing anger.  It’s so god-damn beautiful here and I just want to sail through it but instead I’m carrying around leaden lungs.  oy.

We slog through marshlands (again, amazing variety of medicinal plants, mallows and worts of all kinds), wobble across rocky washes and thump into the next aid station.  More salted potatoes and fresh apples, refill the water and off we go up a narrow meadowed canyon carved by a millenia of snowmelt.


Still angry with my lungs and hating being at the back of the pack I try to tell myself to do the best with what I’ve got. Lame. I want to do better.

We begin the ascent of mountain #2.  There is not much of a trail, though you can see how animals weave up this mountainside, where the moss and lichen grows more broadly and the trees and saplings thin.  And though my lungs were gasping I found mountain #2 FUN.  It was like being a kid in the woods again, tromping over fallen trees and bouncing off spongy moss beds.  Lovely.  And oh, the lichen!  ‘nuf said.


On mountaintop #2 there was a cairn that we were told to walk around 3 times but I swore at it instead and carried on.  Coming down the mountain the grasses were so high I found myself once again restrained from any full tilt running for fear of falling.  Our next aid station was toward the bottom of the grassy slope, a father and son with tent set and horses off grazing and horse meat boiling in the pot.  a quick water refill and now there is only a 10k to go.  Shit.  I’m already at the end of the 5th hour.  I’d wanted to do this race in 5.5 hours.  Now I’d be lucky for 7 hours.  But the hill leveled out, the trail turned to road and off we went, Dee kicked it in and was gone within minutes.  I was demoralized.  But she is a regular 3:30 marathon runner and my personal best is 3:45, ahem, 10 years ago.  I took a few walk breaks in the last 10k but trudged along knowing it would be over sooner if I kept hitting it as hard as I could.  The camp doctor came riding up on a mountain bike within the last 2k and asked how I was.  I told him I was chewed up but that it still wasn’t anywhere near child birth.

Crossing the finish line there are bodies strewn about, various 100k folks resting before heading back out.  But where is Dee?  I ask the race director, Angie, and she says, “no, no Dee.  In fact, I think you’re the first woman across the line for the 42k.”  Ever so chill, or unimpressed.  What?!  First?  That is not right.  Dee should be here.  Then I get worried that her ankles have fallen off and she’s in a ditch somewhere.  We cluck about for a while until a horseman is radioed to look for her and along she comes, 50 minutes after me, having taken a wrong turn.  She is super angry.  Meanwhile Miss-didn’t-train-it-wasn’t-so-hard has come in at #2.  Dee gets #3 and curses herself for not waiting for slow poke me, human GPS.



Of course, there are many more stories to tell.

11 Responses to “the race”

  1. Dee says:


    I was super annoyed at myself for making that fatal turn but I can’t tell you how thrilled I am that you won (and also that you kicked French girl’s ass). It was momentous and right. you are a total badass, leaden lungs and all!!


  2. Laurel says:

    The Opposite House looks awfully nice and fancy, fancy-pants marathon winner!!! Congrats. It looks damp! And very pretty!! Can’t wait to hear more stories.

  3. Chrissy says:

    So proud of you! Did you get my text? It was my first (techie that I am – HA!) so I probably messed it up. Kieran says “Good racin’, I’m proud that you won, and tell Akira that you are fast. Um um um and that you can come to our house some day soon. You are a good runner! Kiss and hug for you. Um um um and some day everybody can go to the girls house.” Girls = his little twin friends that he looooooves. “Um Um and I love you.”
    So now you can take a little rest, go to the doctor and get an inhaler, and think of a program to loosen my hamstrings and get me into 10K or even 1/2 marathon shape. Can’t wait to hear more stories!!!
    p.s. Akira was the most wonderfully patient older cousin in the world while here. He never would have complained about the chubby shadow tripping along behind him. We made sure to give Akira some down time and attention. Eddie was great with both of them. OK – talk soon! Chrissy

  4. Chrissy says:

    p.s. Dee – I’m glad you didn’t disappear forever! I imagine “annoyed” wasn’t your only comment when you realized what happened. You should get a prize for running all those extra miles! Thank you for teaming up with Lisa. We were less worried about her knowing she wasn’t travelling and running alone. Hugs – Chrissy

  5. Adele says:

    Congratulations and Happy, Happy Birthday Lisa. So proud of you both Can’t wait to talk to Dee and hear more. Love your blog.

  6. eurydice says:

    running all day with a sprained ankle?!?! beautiful brioche clouds? incredible lakeside landscape. and are those lichen shots underwater?? wow. wow. wow. and how more aptly put could ‘opposite house’ be? congratulations…thank you for sharing it…i’m loving technology right now. the travel must be especially sweet after the race is through (and you are victorious!!!). i hope they’re enjoyable and have safe travels homeward… love e

  7. marites says:

    OOOHHH Lisa Carroll – AKA SUPERWOMAN, inspirational wonder, ultra-conditioned power
    athlete who can not only run but write about it too, I am speechless…you have manifested a dream with verve, vision, and eff’n ***STRENGTH**. You are a power meld of body, mind and spirit..we bow to YOU!!! (Guess you told that shoulder who’s boss…) Can’t wait to welcome you home!!! much much love – mt

  8. Mom says:

    What is a cairn????? Love Mom

  9. lisack says:

    A cairn is usually a carefully built pile of stones marking a trail through a wilderness. In Asia cairns are often used as spiritual markers, visually notating a place that is sacred such as mountain tops. This cairn was built of branches, something I had never seen before. I’m not sure if this is the reason but I had been told that in Mongolia to “move” a stone will get you 1000 years of bad luck. I think Erke, the local woman who told me this meant to say “remove.” I was worried for a few hours because I had built two stones cairns on the shore of the lake marking a smoother pathway that I also built into the water. Hundreds of stones. She absolved me of my errant foreigner ways.

  10. Congratulations on the adventure. Very envious of the experience. See you back on the soccer fields of Oakland.

  11. Hey, interesting post! bookmarked :)

Leave a Reply