Leaving Pipeline aid, you plummet off the rim of the Caldera. It's almost a cliff. No doubt, this is a dangerous drop-off. It is possible to "lose it" and tumble to a broken and bloody heap at the bottom. The footing is extremely loose, and everything you try to grab is also loose. And you're also trying not to cause anyone else to fall.
Usually the Caldera is a great place to make some time. It's several miles of easy-going and extremely runnable on the road sections. Once you pass the aid station, though, there's a huge expanse of grassland. The grass grows in frustrating clumps that defy attempts to run, but it is possible to run very ungracefully through this, with a few wipe-outs. But no running for me this year.
There's a small pond at the low point, and the frogs were croaking extremely loud. There were lots of birds. Some Mountain Blue Birds, owls, finches, and some birds I don't think I've ever seen before with jet-black bodies and bright-yellow heads.
Then up through the boulder-field. I attacked each uphill with all my frustrations. People who kept passing me on the flats and downhills saw me blaze up, even through the jutting boulders and fallen trees. No stopping, no slowing, and yelling, "Yeehah! Downhill all the way up!" and crap like that the whole way. What a knucklehead.
I wasn't alone. "John" looked and acted like a gung-ho sergeant straight back from the Middle-East. He was lots of fun and was also very vocal and good-humored. A really good guy to "run" with.
First-timers to this race struggle up this bouldering and deadfall-hopping and get to the top of the ridge and... they're crushed to see the flagging continue to climb up the ridge to the left, steep, and through the same clumps of grass found in the Caldera.
Finally up, over, and many miles of gentle descent. This descent was hard on me. Last year, this a was deliriously fine spree through beautiful meadows and forest. This year it was a walk, but still beautiful - without the exhilarating speed.
Then cross the barbed-wire fence.
Then miles of fairly boring stuff where I let my mind wander to my injuries and did a moving reassessment. Things seemed to be right on-track.
Up Pajarito mountain. A guy was lost - first-timer. I showed him the way. He had mis-read the map but wasn't far off.
Then down the expert ski-slope. This year was easier. Last year had been slushy snow. It was nearly impossible to keep your feet under you. But this year was just STEEP.
The only cut-off for this race is the ski lodge - 5pm. I made it in 4:30. Not great, compared to last year, but still right on-plan.
On towards Pipeline aid the second time. I like this figure-8 course. Had my picture taken kissing the inflatable sheep mascot - "Show the sheep some lovin'!"
I figured that with walking, I wouldn't fade, but I did. It wasn't the energy, but the swelling. When you don't use your feet, you flop down on them all day. You get no "spring". Even though I hadn't stressed my injuries in the wrong ways, everything from the ankles down swelled. The swelling put pressure on my injuries. So the pain in my injuries made it difficult to assess was the pain from furthering damage, or just side-affect of swelling? Wasn't sure. With 8 miles to go, I started slowing down. With 5 miles to go, I started slowing down a lot.
It was now dark. The race started in the dark and I was finishing in the dark. I had carried my flashlight the whole way, using no drop-bags, and planning for a night-finish.
As the pain below the knees intensified, and I kept slowing, it was still a very enjoyable experience. I didn't let myself mope. This was such a beautiful course. How very lucky that I was there. My life is so much richer with every experience, with all the people. Nature is something I like to experience face-to-face. I want to feel the wind, the rain, the snow, sleet, sun, the heat and cold (hopefully not too much heat). I want to feel the trees, bushes, and grass - and if they leave me bleeding some, that's okay! I kept telling myself, if I end up DFL, I'd still rather be there than sitting in Denver feeling sorry for myself.
I wasn't DFL, but not far ahead.
Last year: 12:20
This year: 16:30
I grabbed my crutches. J.T. got me some ice. Oh, my feet hurt and were swelling. I had another very nasty blister on my right heel. I need to return to my Injinji's and Vaseline. I never had blisters with that system. I had to poke about 30 holes in the blister to get all the layers and pockets of fluid emptied. Then I wrapped Ace bandages around both feet and ankles.
Paul Grimm is always telling me, "You'd be surprised how good you feel after one night of sleep." He is so right. I wasn't even limping the next morning. Moving slow, but still not limping.