Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Until this time in 2014...

I love the burros. I love the people. I love the community. I love the harsh mountain air, the adrenaline rush, the feeling that I will most certainly cry when I cross through those gates in South Park on the last weekend of July.

But I also love my friends. The ones without long velveteen ears. The ones who are not crazy enough to run with donkeys. The ones who were there for me long before I discovered the joy of the 6-legged race.

And so this year I had to make the [[tough]] choice to attend a friend's 30th instead of running with the likes of Thumper and Ranger.

But rest assured. I will be there next year. I may have even recruited a few more runners just like me.

In the meantime, a little something else to keep you entertained 'till next season. My new pastime:




P.S. Congrats to my lovely burro racers, who kicked ass this year! I am sad I missed it, but thrilled you carried the torch! :)

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Day Forty Two - That Post-Race Feeling

 It took over four hours.

Not quite what I was hoping for, but perhaps as unpredictable as I had expected. Thumper was great at the start – pawing and pulling to get up front with the big guys. He stayed behind me on the steep ravine at the beginning of the course. He didn’t pull me; he held me up as I watched the racer in front of me be dragged by his burro, Stormy.

Lars (the racer being dragged) had come out from Alabama for this race. He had never run with a burro. He had asked shyly before the race if he could hang with me. I smiled. “I’m pretty slow, Lars. You’ll probably want to pass me.” Lars said he didn’t want to try to keep up with the fast runners at this altitude, and he’d like to run with me. “But I’m pokey,” I warned again.

We ended up running together anyhow. Or, maybe walking is more accurate.

Thumper trotted for the first four miles. He was eager to keep up. But then he stopped. He slowed to a leisurely walk. He paused to eat weeds. He pretended to kick me when I got behind him. He wouldn’t pass Stormy.

So Lars and I became a team. By smacking Stormy’s butt (the donkey in front of me), I could get Thumper to jog in thirty second intervals. That was it.

At the halfway mark, Lars and I paused to have water and a snack and give our donkeys carrots. We were hopeful they’d pick up the pace downhill. The crowd marveled at how long of a break we were taking. Lars and I just shrugged. We apparently were not in a rush, and neither were our donkeys.

The donkeys would not run downhill. Now, I am not saying they were misbehaving. Rather, we had “rookie” written all over us. Stormy and Thumper had never run this course. They had never run in a race further than 4 miles. And they were paired with two runners who just couldn’t quite motivate them the way they needed to be motivated. So Lars and I settled for a slow walk.

I couldn’t help but feel bad for Lars – a college track coach who I assumed had high expectations for this race (and had traveled a long way to participate). But Lars remained surprisingly cheerful, coaxing and encouraging Stormy, trying again and again to get her to run (and thus getting Thumper to run behind her). We could occasionally get going for a few minutes with some vigorous ass smacking from behind, but the walking pace was the dominant one. For fifteen miles.

For the last five miles, I felt nauseous and begged Lars to go on without me. But Lars, upstanding Southern gentleman that he is, refused to leave me behind. Plus, Stormy wouldn’t run without Thumper behind her.

And then we took a long-cut. Accidentally missed our turn and went about a mile out of the way and had to go back. Stormy kicked Lars. I was dragging Thumper. I kept telling Lars to go ahead. He wouldn’t. I told him if we could make it back in thirty minutes, we’d make it just under four hours. Forty five minutes went by.

Suddenly we scrambled up the rock face Lars had been dragged down, and lo and behold, we were 200 yards from the finish line. I couldn’t believe it.

And then, something extraordinary happened. They opened the gates of South Park City to let the racers onto Front Street. I have seen them open those doors for the last twenty years. Except this time I was not in the crowd. I was the racer. This time, they were opening the doors for me and my burro.  I could hardly believe it. This was really happening. I was finishing the race it had taken ten years to find the courage to compete in. The gates opened, and I could hear screaming at the finish line. My smile felt fifteen miles long. I was fist-pumping all over the place. Pure exhilaration.

Thumper and Stormy slowed to a meandering walk. But I was still smiling. Lars told me to go ahead. “This is a race!” I shouted, urging him on. In the end his burro crossed the finish line one second after mine. 15th and 16th places, respectively, in the short course. We did not finish last. We did not win prizes. But we crossed the line.

I was instantly surrounded by a beautiful throng of some of the most important people in my life. My parents, my fiancĂ©, my fiance’s mother, sister and brother, some of my best friends, my running coaches, and even my first-grade teacher. It was beautiful and painful and incredible all at the same time.

I did it. I finished the race. I crossed the finish line. I held onto my donkey. I didn’t get hurt.

But now it is over. I just emerged from my first shower after the race. I am clean and relaxed and… feeling a little empty. I had hoped for under four hours. Why couldn’t I get Thumper to cooperate? Why didn’t I run better, faster, longer? Why didn’t I train more? Did I really give it my all as I had pledged to do?

Here I am, well-fed, barely sore, and wondering what is next. Where are my long ears to stroke? Where are my four legs to coax and prod? Where is my next mountain to climb? Running in Washington Park just doesn’t seem the same after this.

But before I let myself go completely into the post-race letdown, I luxuriate for a moment  in the most meaningful moments of my race day. I remind myself that it was about more than a finishing time. It was about more than walking or trotting or ass jokes.

This race was bigger than all of that.

It was about the sleepy 6:30 am emergence from my warm bed. The scrambled eggs Mom made with whole-wheat toast. The wildflowers she picked to weave into my braids. The peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich my dad made to pack in my saddlebags.

And the t-shirt. I was wearing a very soft, very special, very old t-shirt for this race. A t-shirt my deceased older brother, Ross had made in third grade. With his name written in his handwriting on the front, and the word “PROUD” written confidently on each bicep. There is a photo of him wearing it. He is holding a fish, grinning exuberantly into the camera, displaying his catch. I had been saving this shirt for a very special occasion. This was it. I was going to honor him. I was going to do the best I  could. I was going to make him proud.

When we arrived in town and began to help Bill with the seven burros he had brought to compete, I began to feel less like a rookie, and more like one of the crew. I knew how to put lead ropes on and unload the burros. I could tie them up. I understood the logistics of the saddles. I could instruct about using the curry comb and getting the saddles on right. We even put all the saddles in the back of our pickup truck and drove them to the weigh-in station. Someone asked me if I was Bill Lee’s assistant. Someone else asked if I was his daughter. “Something like that,” I replied to each. Whereas the other five racers were perhaps unfamiliar with Bill’s animals and equipment, I felt comfortable and knowledgeable. I had not only earned the privilege to run with Thumper – I had earned a spot on Bill’s crew.

More than four hours later, when I saw the doors to South Park City open for me – a racer – a dreamer – a spoiled younger sister – a proud young woman, I knew I had arrived. I had done what I had come to do. And I had made my brother proud.

Drawing power from Ross's Superman T-shirt at my pre-race dinner.
Pre-race slumber party with dogs and friends!
Pre-race breakfast with Galen, Mom (in the kitchen) and Dad.
Good morning, burros!

Thumper is still sleepy, too.

Race registration! 
Yup. 33 lbs.        
#1 Fans. They are such groupies they spent the night, made signs, and stayed for the whole race! Thanks Kate and Vanessa. :)
Getting Thumper saddled up and ready.
Here we go - making our way to the course. 
Freshly-picked Fairplay wildflowers in my hair. Thanks, Mom.
Here's the start:

 Trying my hardest to motivate Thump...

And then the finish!
Can you hear the gates opening for me?
Post-race nose rub.    
Thumper has earned carrots.   
And now, a little series Nick shot with the commemorative burro toy I received as part of running the race... 
Kiss my ass. 
Richard - you and Maasai wouldn't know anything about running at sunset, would you? So proud of you, buddy!
The last ass shot until next year.
Goodnight, Moon. Full moon over Pikes Peak.

Monday, July 26, 2010

A Thank You

I am still reflecting on the race experience, collecting photos, and fine-tuning my words. But I will tell you that I finished! Four hours and sixteen minutes, fifteen miles, and lots of smiles. So stay posted for the race details and pics. But for now, I just want to send out a big thank you and lots of love.

Thank you for supporting me, loving me, cheering me on, driving me around, encouraging me, believing in me, and investing in my dreams.

Thank you for reading my writing. Thank you for laughing and crying with me.

Thank you to everyone who ran with me (Bill Lee, Ralph Herzog, Curtis Imrie, Brad and Amber, Richard, Jim, Sue, Sheri, Emily Drummond).

Thank you to everyone who read (and commented on) my blog – on Sunday a few racers even mentioned they had been following it!

Thank you to my lovely fiancé who put up with playing second-fiddle to an ass (actually lots of asses).

Thanks to all my family and friends who have listened to my stories and kept me going.

Thanks especially to my coaches, Bill, Brad and Amber – I couldn’t have made it without you!

Next year I promise to make you even prouder by training harder, running faster, and finishing under four hours!

Friday, July 23, 2010

And the Drum Roll Please...

My loofah used to be pastel pink. It is now a grimy rose color. Evidence that I have been getting down and dirty, with enough dust, grime and burro residue on my skin to leave a ring of grey matter on the inside of the tub. Yes, perhaps this is too much information. But it is significant.

The dusty rose loofah is proof that I have been getting in my training, hitting the trails, getting calluses on my hands and toes, getting burro sweat mixed in with my own. A sunburned nose and great bruises on my thigh back up the story.

All in all, I have run about ten times (maybe nine?) with various burros and coaches – mornings, afternoons, hills, flats, sunshine, rain…

My July chest cold really slowed things down. The days I would have liked to be running, instead I was home recovering. But alas, there are only certain things in this world that I can control, and a summer cold is not one of them. I feel under-trained. I feel inadequate. But I am doing it anyways.

I have learned about being part of a tradition. About being part of the West. About being a mountain girl. About climbing hills. About being a runner. About the power of friendship and trust. I have become stronger. More patient. And maybe even a little wiser.

So come Sunday, I will have to put my transferable skills to the test. The goal, in the words of Amber, is  “to hold onto my donkey and finish without getting hurt.” I will give it all I’ve got. I might have to walk a bit. I will try to finish in less than four hours. But if I can’t? If Thumper refuses to cooperate? I will be easy on myself and have faith that there will be more races to run, more pride to earn.

So on Sunday, I tackle the big one. I go with a big smile, lots of hope, and joy in my heart.

Day Thirty Nine - A Few Slices of Heaven

The last three days have been big, fat slices of heaven. With whipped cream on top. And cinnamon-sugar. And a cherry, even.

Tuesday was a 5-mile Apex on a cool Colorado day.

Wednesday I brought my mom out on the trail with Bill and the rambunctious Smoky, Thumper, and Firecracker. Mom got a big kick out of all of the animals, did great climbing the hills, learned how to drive from behind, and even did some downhill! She was super-excited afterwards. “I finally understand,” she said solemnly, but with an ear-to-ear grin. She had begun to understand the magic of the human-burro relationship.
Good morning, goats and Scottish Highland Steer!
Rounding up the burros.
Horse: "I want to come for a jog, too!" Me: "What funny, short ears you have!"
Llamas! Do you see the baby?
REINDEER! Bill has 12.
In the words of the rapper Juvenile, "Got it from her Mama."

Coach Bill and his Trainee.

And Thursday? We (humans: Curtis, Richard, Jim, Brad, Amber and I... long-ears: McMurphy, Maasai, Willy, Jewel, and Full-Tilt Boogie) scaled the top of Mosquito Pass in freezing rain. Yep. From the Leadville side we crossed switchbacks and climbed dirt trails and reached the top of the Pass of Frozen Death - over 13,000 feet in elevation. And got down alive. It was amazing.

Amber and Jewel in front of some mine tailings.

Here's the crew!

We made it! Bethany and Willy

The Boyz... McMurph and Willy.

 Curtis and his crazy ass, Full-Tilt Boogie.
Today and tomorrow I rest. And then... the drumroll. For Sunday.

The race starts on Sunday, July 25 at 10:30 am on Front Street in Fairplay, CO. Show up and be loud - I promise you'll be glad you made the trip.