I’ve been practicing not planning my runs. I set out on a trail and let my legs carry me. As with running, so goes the life and the blog, time to re-direct or re-route. check out the new blog, a collaboration with artist and friend, Laurel Hunter:
A mile up the hill from the Monte Vista Hotel in Flagstaff is Buffalo City Park, a great jumping off place into the trail system of Coconino Wilderness Area.
On the trail to Rocky Ridge…lichen EVERYWHERE
really, lichen everywhere
and Stick Maps, as Akira and I call the work of beetles upon the wood of fallen trees.
a rough patch of the wall between Jinshanling and Simatai
occasional patterned bits mortared into the pathway and steps of the wall.
Sal and Mal on the wall today, July 27th
I’m flying home tomorrow. until then….
Sally Law, 42k finisher, swarthy Kiwi sailor and wonderful ladyloo
Malcolm Law, 100k finisher, all around mountain-man badass
Zvonimir, 7x 100k finisher, wise runner guru
Sylvain, 100k winner, secret nickname known only to me and dee since we made it up: el torocito. This Frenchman should be hailed ultra-runner of the century. Truely impressive dude.
Dave Smith, 100k finisher, champion cyclist, another Mr. Motivator, lovely Irishman with Molly, 100k women’s winner (only 10 minutes behind el Torocito!)
Cara, 100k finisher, word-smith Aussie
100k second place finisher, party friendly Mongolian man whose name escapes me at the moment with Nordin, 100k finisher, nick-name “chickee” due to the emitting of chirping sounds whilst flapping arms, ever cheerful lad from Belguim. Wins the flirt award.
Azura, 42k finisher, always smiling delightful ger-mate from Malaysia, living in HK
Alex, 42k finisher, cool-headed HK business woman, jet-set party woman (please, no more vodka)
Kandy the gorgeous soul, 42k finisher, the original smarty-pants feminist from Iran, living in Switzerland
Siggy, 42k finisher, mama goose making sure every 100k finisher had a nice cold beer at the finish line
Steen, 100k finisher, mysterious and slightly cruel, wise-cracking Dane
Stephane, 100k finisher, kindly Frenchman, que cute too.
Michael, 100k finisher, carrying every pharmalogical remedy known to mankind. I thank him for this.
Jos, 100k finisher, super excellent Belgian with a ready smile
I know it seems like a very simple word, connect. In the Merriam-Webster dictionary the first definition reads, “to become joined”. My molecules have done a fussion thing with the land, the sky, the water around Lake Khovsgol, Mongolia and the people whom I have met there.
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.
The following photos were taken by Dee Williams, traveling (and running) companion extraordinaire flying into Ulaanbaatar yesterday.
seasonal rivers across a plain.
arrived last night at 1am to Edelwiess Hotel in Ulaanbaatar after riding in a “taxi” with the driver sitting on the right but the roads are driven on the right side too. hmmm. imagine on coming traffic lights shining right into the passanger side and every time a car was about to pass, Art-ek would veer to the right just to be sure we wouldn’t get hit. eek. when there was no on coming traffic we would wend and weave all over the road to avoid the ocean flow of frost heaves. i got the immediate sense of this place being deeply frozen over most of the year. so much so that the weeds are in full force everywhere, there is no gardening going on here, more just an ahem, appreciation for the way nature does it. one also gets the immediate impression that Russia was here not too long ago. the city feels like a Russian city. (or my Western idea of a Russian city, since i’ve never been there). there is no constant in anything…the roads are paved some places and suddenly turn to dirt and rock and puddle, the buildings are sometimes partially freshly painted and then riddled with missing chunks, broken windows and a sense of emptiness alongside brand new buildings, skyscrapers (a few) of glass still being built.
We are at the Amsterdam cafe, free wifi, nice panini and great coffee. We are on are way to check out woolie things at the State Store and then it’s off to the airport to meet the running group and get on an old Russian plane. I actually met a few of the other runners last night on my plane ride from Beijing. A tour group from Switzerland. The two gals sitting next to me had never run a marathon and had not done much training and were using the excuse of the marathon to go someplace unusal for a vacation. uh oh.
This is my last post for a week. No internet at camp. Until next Friday! Wish me luck.