[Read the other entries from the Dust Bowl Series]
When I signed up for the Dust Bowl Series marathons, I thought it would be a good idea to fly into Denver at night, drive 360 miles through the night to get to Dalhart, Texas just in time for the start of the first day, then run a marathon. After that, I’d have to drive another 70 miles to get to Guymon, Oklahoma to check into my hotel.
Looking back on it, I realize the hubris in that. Honestly, I forget what I was thinking. Part of that must have been, if I had to guess, that I don’t sleep well before a marathon anyway. Or, more precisely, I don’t sleep well the night before a marathon when I haven’t run a marathon the day before. If I’m not going to sleep, I might as well spend that time driving through the lonely highways of Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas.
Another part of that thinking might have been that the series ends in Clayton, New Mexico. Denver International isn’t that far away (Amarillo is closer) and I didn’t want to fly out the same day. After five days of running, I would relax in some nice hotel for the night.
That’s how I started this series of five marathons in five days, put on by the same people who organize the Center of the Nation series I ran last September. I had so much fun suffering that week that I wanted to do it again, and they put on a top-notch race with great support where the running matters more than charities, sponsors, or celebrities. These are marathons for people who like to run and aren’t content to do one hometown marathon a year. People think I’m crazy for trying for 30 marathons this year, but here that’s the norm. People do these series to merge into the fast track of the 50 States Club, and most everyone has several marathons under their belt and several more in mind.
I got a bit ambitious, or maybe too big for my running shorts, when I made this plan. I didn’t think about sitting upright in the slightly uncomfortable rental car seat, steering for six hours, or that the automatic transmission was giving one set of quads a workout. Driving overnight was going to be the hardest part of this; I thought I might doze off while driving and end up and the bottom of some Rocky Mountain valley with no cell service, only to be found by some yuppie hikers five years later. The day, then, was more about the drive than the run.
If I could get to Dalhart, the hard stuff would be over. And get there I would. There’s not much in the way between Denver and Texas. Colorado Springs, Pueblo, Raton, and Clayton punctuate the lightly used and mostly straight highway that doesn’t even have the trucking traffic. I’d have to slow down from 90 miles and hour a couple of times, but otherwise I was really hauling the mail as I had the road to myself. If I could avoid the police, the other risk would come from some animal; signs warned about moose and bear crossings, the latter showing up above 7,000 feet.
Maybe it was the Mountain Dew and (candy) orange slices that kept me awake, but I never had an inattentive moment. That toxic cocktail of sugar and caffeine would get me later though. I knew these things can’t be good for me, but it’s not an overnight road trip without them, and it’s what I could get in Pueblo, where I found both cops hanging at the the mini mart. I resisted the Slim Jims, another road staple. I knew I was doing enough damage already.
Colorado is a beautiful state, and so is New Mexico, but I wouldn’t know it from this drive. There were no lights other than a gibbous half moon and my high beams, both of which were swallowed by the dark. Even my GPS screen gave up on direction since the next turn was in 230 miles. It merely showed a relief map of the entire state with a thick purple line going south and slightly east.
I made good time, and thought if I could make even better time, a nap before the run might be possible. With not much else to do, I watched the estimated arrival time tick down, much like I would with the Garmin I wear during the runs (although it’s more likely to tick up).
The start was at 7:30 AM, just before sunrise, and I could pick up my bib starting at 6:30. It was around 4:30 with maybe 50 miles to go that I thought I was doing pretty well, although I didn’t understand why my arrival time was still almost two hours away. Right after I cut the corner of New Mexico to make it into Texas, I lost an hour to the time zone change. The clock on the Sirius radio updated, as did my cell phone. I wasn’t making that much time after all. I must have done the computations when I first made this plan and I was trusting that I had done that correctly. I don’t know why I should trust the person who came up with this crazy idea. At least he provide a one page summary of the week’s craziness.
These events are usually off the grid, so they provide geo-coordinates for the start. I just make it to the general area and look for the marathon sign. It looks easy enough, but you have to imagine it in the dark. I usually see it right before it’s too late to make the turn. Another strategy, depending on when you want to arrive, it just to follow any cars you see. Who else is awake and in that part of the world other than the people about to run the race?
Day One was an out and back loop at Lake Rita Blanca. There is a small lake there, but we’d mostly run in the opposite direction along a path that would normally be right next to the lake. These aren’t normal times in the Dust Bowl, though, and these states are experiencing a severe drought.
From the satellite image you can see how dry it is. We should have most been near water, but almost all of that has receded.
Now that I’ve been running marathons for several years (has it really been that long since my first in Salt Lake City?), I usually see people I’ve run with before. This morning that was a bit tough since everyone was bundled up for the sub-freezing temperatures, but I spotted a Marathon Adventures White Continent jacket. That must be someone I know, and it was Kermit, whom I’ve run with twice in both Antarctica and Punta Arenas. There were also several people from the Center of the Nation series, but I’d only really seen them during those runs since I spent most of my time passed out in my hotel that week. Everyone’s bib has their name on it though, so it’s easy to say “Good going Sue!” or “Looking good Henry!”, only later figuring out our overlap.
The Mainly Marathons are usually short loops or out-and-backs. Every two or three miles you’ll pass their support trailer. A point-to-point run would not only require much more support, but would be really lonely. The sort of people that come out to these things are enthusiastic, friendly, and supportive no matter their running ability. Even the 3:15 runners are telling the 8:00 walkers that they are looking good and doing well.
There are no mile markers for these races. Each time you pass the time keepers, you get a rubber band to help you count the your laps. They try to make the course work out to something even, like 12 laps, but sometimes the terrain makes it something like 23 laps. Toward the end of the run it’s sometimes a struggle to count and you spend time fiddling with rubber bands to see where you are. If it’s an out-and-back, there’s a cone to mark the turnaround.
I’ve found this setup mentally easier than the conventional, big marathon mile marker events. I think in terms of laps instead of miles, and since the laps tend to be longer than a mile, the run goes by faster.
I’ve been worried about my Texas marathon since I set my 50 States goal. I don’t know much about the state other than most of it catches on fire every year. I had run the Dallas Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon and had given up around Mile 9 because I couldn’t take the heat. That was in March too. Today’s temperatures looked okay. They’d start out below freezing and maybe get into the 40s F. That’s perfect. But, it was also a clear day and I don’t like direct sunlight that much. If I could get the bulk of it done before it got warm, I’d mostly be set.
Kermit and I ran together, mostly, for the first half and put in a decent time. We’re about the same pace and have plenty to talk about. However, my stomach and intestines weren’t so happy about that Mountain Dew and those candy orange slices. My pre-race peanut butter sandwich was pushing the toxins farther into my GI tract, so I visited the porta-potties on each lap. I could never quite get my body to cooperate with that.
Sometime in the middle I took another porta-potty break and made the mistake of putting my head back against the wall. I think I was asleep for only a couple of minutes, but the lack of sleep was wearing on me. I remember reading Dean Karanzes saying something about sleep deprivation being the biggest demon in his run, and it was certainly haunting me today.
As I slogged toward the finish, my mind turned against me. I wondered why I was here; I felt like I didn’t belong. I was a marathon fraud and should just give up—not only today, but the whole thing. I knew that confluence of several factors conspired against my positive mental state, but the intellectual knowledge of that doesn’t mitigate its effects. I know this is the “spotlight effect”, a social anxiety where you think everyone noticesOutside of all reason, I was embarrassed to be here with everyone who I thought was doing much better than me even if I’d finish before them. I’ve had bad runs before, and I’ve often had very short periods of self doubt during most races, but never to this extent.
The last third of the race I was dragging myself around the course and walking much more than running. I hadn’t had a long run since the Aspire 6-50 at the beginning of the month, so I was getting my legs back into it, I hadn’t slept for a day, and that drive was getting its revenge. I stumbled across the line with a disappointing time, humbled. There’s no big diamond-framed S under my running shirt today. Still, Day One was in the books, I’ve done another state (and one I worried about), and I wasn’t dead in the bottom of a valley. I’m counting that as a win. It could have turned out much worse.
After I finished, I cleared out the back seat of my car and slept for two hours. I was on my chinstraps and in no shape to drive the 70 miles to Guymon right away. I was thinking too clearly, so I hadn’t cracked the windows. I don’t know why I was working so hard to kill myself today, but I brushed it off and drove to Guymon where a bed was waiting for me. I got to the hotel and passed out for the night, missing the evening group dinner.