The Kokopelli Trail. 148 miles. In the desert. in June.
A HUGE challenge for noob (that would be me) and veteran alike. The oppressive heat and relentless wind indeed proved formidable opponents from beginning to blistering, blustering end.
I had started off the night before at the pre-race meeting a bit intimidated because I had never done anything like this before, and there were all these people who had done this one and many others, and looked like they lived in the mountains and just ran up them all day long. And then there was me, who basically can run for about 1.5 to 2 hours before my back started seizing up and I have to walk/stretch/run the rest of the way.
We start at 1:30 p.m. on Monday afternoon with temperatures already in the 100’s. The rolling hills commence and quickly turn into technical steep ascents punctuated by steep technical descents. Lots of climbing over rocky terrain, drop-offs, and hot. Lots of HOT. Everywhere you turn. Grab some shade if you can, if you will, but rest assured that it will only be a brief respite from the unrelenting heat. So anyway, the climbing started, and did not stop. But my lungs did, protesting to the point where they would not expand, then my heart chimed in with erratically supercharged beating. I had to stop to catch my breath. A LOT. It slowed me (us) down to finish just before cutoff.
At the finish, my back was hurting quite a bit (no surprise there) and I was just glad to be not moving anymore. One racer, obviously younger, pain free and having finished in the top 3, looks around and the detritus of human life sprawled around the campsite, and exclaims “it sure is quiet!” Yes, I sneered back, I am just trying to breathe, leave me alone as I contemplate how I am going to move my legs to get to my tent without crawling and completely embarrassing myself. On the inside. I was too discouraged to actually form coherent words so I said nothing.
I had a few moments (read ALL DAY LONG) where I had to ask myself “what on earth have I gotten myself into?” I had started this ‘race’ and I use that term very loosely as it applies to me, wanting simply to finish; I just wanted to finish.
I will not continue with a breakdown of the actual race and how I did, except to say that I did not, and that every day it was more of the same, heat, wind, and by day 4 the sand.
Against the natural backdrop of endless sky, sandstone spires, the Milky Way and prehistoric canyon, amidst heat, wind and dehydration, we ran, walked, climbed and rode our way along the Kokopelli Trail. There are lessons to be learned out there. Many will speak of pushing yourself….asking your body to do more than you ever thought it could… knowing that whatever your perceived limits are, they can always be stretched, and knowing you can do anything, because you’ve done ‘this.’
What I learned, however, on the trail … not so esoteric:
People tell LIES … okay, maybe not MEANT to be LIES, but when you are gazing longingly ahead searching for a yellow flag or other sign that the end is near, and the person next to you says “just over this hill,”…. sounds like a lie to me. When the race director says ‘just a half mile to a mile until the next water drop’…. then you see it 2 hours later, LIE. See the camp? Just ahead…. around the corner, or just a few more miles… all LIES. The concept of distance is a subjective, and it is foolish to listen to those voices who, while thinking they are being encouraging, are really just lying. BEST STRATEGY – you are going to out there a long time, so bring lots of good music and podcasts to drown out the lying.
TIME is subjective … there’s what time it says on everyone’s watch, then there’s what I call “RATS time.” Which translates to a half an hour to 2 hours later, depending. On what, I couldn’t say, but I’m sure it’s a very good explanation…. whatever. Or “it should take us only another hour to get to the next aid station” and 4 hours later there you are. Sounds like another lie to me. Except for the fact that it’s my fault because I’m a slowpoke. But if everyone else can lie, I can blame random stuff on them. Just sayin.’ BEST STRATEGY – you are going to be out there a long time; be realistic about your pace. I am not a math person, so it might help to have one of those along who can help you figure out that part of it. On the 40 mile day the last person came in at 8:00 p.m. She was out there 12:30 hrs. That’s a LONG TIME. Just get used to the idea.
HEAT… and what it does to you, and how you cope with it.
It’s all part of the mental game you have to be prepared to deal with. You are going to be very hot for a very long time. Starting off at 7:30 or 8:00 a.m. does not really help all that much out there in the desert. It gets hot quick and only gets hotter as the sun rises. On Tuesday, the 40 mile day, my thermometer read 104 degrees at 10:00 a.m.
BEST STRATEGY – you are going to be hot for a long time; just get used to being hot. Drink a LOT. At every aid station take your shirt off, soak it in water then put it back on. The cool refreshingness will not last long but will serve to reset your body temperature. Also, carry extra water bottles to drink and to sprinkle on yourself. You will not regret it.
BEING PREPARED means not only being physically able to complete the course, but also mentally and psychologically going into the race knowing what lies ahead and having a plan to cope with it. There will always be the unknown, unplanned for hardships that pop up, and enduring those well comes with practice and experience.
When Day 6 was over I told myself never again, but by the next day I was already planning my strategy for next time. So here it is:
- LOTS of time on the Stair Master and on the treadmill with 15% incline. And by lots of time, I mean at least and hour every day. As RD Gemini Reid would say, it’s a ‘net uphill.’
- Strength training. I feel that if my legs had been stronger then the uphills would have gone better.
- Time on the feet just walking, preferably into the night. The prospect of finishing the expedition stage (52 miles) would have seemed more realistic and I would have been more mentally prepared for what that was going to feel like.
- Transition to a plant-based diet. More on this later, but basically it is the best diet you can adopt, and I believe it will help to alleviate my back issues. We’ll see.
HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE WEEK::
Michael looked cool sporting his ‘Orange Crush,’ ‘Animal,’ ‘Super Genius,’ and ‘Fanta Grape’ shirts (although he did get a little ribbing from Leslie who said he looked like he was going to cut the grass).
The best part of all.
See you in 2014, Kokopelli.