Saturday, April 21, 2012

"Congratulations! You're Last!"

In 2009 I was 50 pounds overweight and struggling to train for my first ever race. The idea of being able to run an entire 5K without walking was overwhelming. I couldn't. In fact, I didn't. My first few races were a walk/run and very slow.

3 short years later and I've managed to lose 40 pounds of that weight (that last pesky 10 pounds seems like it wants to stay glued to me forever! BAH!) And I've run every distance of race between a 5K up to a full marathon. And having done that I can state with much confidence that the Menan Buttes Trail Challenge is the hardest race I've ever done. Last year I ran the 12.5K and barely survived. So this year I came back and decided to tackle the 25K. That's right. I'm such a glutton for punishment that not only did I repeat the course that "Trail Runner" magazine has called the "Toughest race in Idaho" but I doubled the distance.

See here's the butte. It doesn't look so bad from down here, but that first mile is brutal!!! A 700 ft climb before you've hit 9 tenths! Everyone is walking within the first few steps.

We got lucky with the weather this year. It's been unseasonably warm. So the start line was a balmy 55-ish. (In past years it's still been snowing so that's a big improvement.) It got warm fast though. And I'm blaming the great weather for the abundance of people there today. Last year it was pretty much just people affiliated with the race, but today there were scout troops and college kids in abundance. (Stupid BYU-Idaho! I totally forgot that dragging an adventurous co-ed up switchbacks to the top of a volcano is a preferred date for broke college boys.)

The course is pretty easy but can be confusing if you're not familiar with the terrain. After you've reached the top of the butte, you drop down into the calderra. In fact, the only flat spots on the entire race are when you're down running through the crater. It's the only time in the whole race when you can just open up and flat out run.

You come out on the south rim, run around it, drop back down into the crater, come out the north rim and run around it until you get to the service road under the R which you run a mile down then turn around and run back up. Finish your loop around the north rim, drop back down into the calderra and run the south rim again, back down the face to the parking lot. If you're running the 12.5K (the most popular distance by a long way) you're done! Hooray! But if you're one of us 6 brave (or stupid) souls who entered the 25K, you get to turn around and do the whole thing again! The plus side is that at the halfway mark for us they had the usual array of water, sports drinks, oranges & bananas, but also preztel sticks & m&m's. (Someone must have read my mind!)

This is down in the crather and actually one of the widest points of the entire trail. Most of it is single track.

Those of you familiar with the area, can you spot the Cunningham Family Hacienda? It's there!

This run is so different from any kind of road race and even trail race most people are used to because there are sections of it where you can't run at all. You're climbing up rocks.

Yep. You get to climb up that. And it takes all four limbs! It's deceptive though, because once you reach the top you see this:

Which also takes hands and feet to scale.

It's kind of beautiful in a way. I mean if you're into sage brush and lava rock. I'm not, but after deliriously running miles and miles through it, I can appreciate it's distinctive features.

My personal favorite part of the run is along the north rim. I love the views from there and the terrain is conducive to running with just a few small spots of climbing to mix it up.

This is the north rim. Or well, my view from it today!

More north rim. I don't know why I like this section so much but I do! I ended up finishing dead last of the half dozen who did the long distance. But it worked out okay. I got a prize for being the caboose! (See Gideon holding it below!) And a free pair of Montrail running shoes because I kept going and didn't quit. I told the race director my grandmother is the Energizer Bunny, so it must be in my genes.

Oh and one more thing about this run, you don't ever want to wear good running shoes or clothes because you pretty much just end up caked in dust and dirt thanks to the fact that the wind never stops blowing here. Anyway I'm super sore, but I feel great because I finished really strong. And hey, I ran 15.5 miles up and down a volcano today. What did you do?


Angela said...

Way to go!!!!!!!!! There is totally pride in coming in dead last. My friend and I tied for last in the Dam half marathon 7 years ago. We walked 97% of it but it was still REALLY hard for us. I still feel proud of myself for doing that. You rocked this race, congratulations!

Darryl and Cindy Cunningham said...

1. Way to go Cali! I keep telling you that you are tougher than the rest of us. I haven't climbed that butte in since my surgery, but I still think I would walk it.

2. Your pictures of my wonderful neighborhood and my hacienda sans the snow, has made me terribly homesick. Time to make a visit home.

Love you!