Thursday, we get a windstorm. I read about it in the news, so I know its coming. I juggle my schedule, and head out in the afternoon to get my walk in. Although there are still hours before the worst of it is due, the wind’s already kicking up as I head over to the bike path, although only small things like plastic trash pails are actually blowing. I look up at the trees, knowing they’re the biggest hazard. But knowing that reminds me of the signs on the highway that say “falling rocks.” How do you avoid falling rocks?? (Once, awhile back, a wide old tree came down just about right where I was standing on the sidewalk. Just like that, one minute there’s a tree, next minute, there’s a tree lying across the sidewalk and street. I heard a creaking noise, and by some instinct, absolutely leaped forward, and it missed me by a couple of feet. Its just not the kind of thing one can plan ahead for. ) The path is mostly empty, but I do encounter a few joggers, maybe working out early just as I am. The wind is mostly at my back as I head out; but once I turn, its coming right at me. I have to work really hard to keep at it, and after my first loop, I realize I need to abandon my time goal completely — I’m exerting way harder because of the wind, and there’s no way I could keep to the planned times. I decide to just get in a good workout and its the best I’ll be able to do. The wind keeps reminding me of the three stranded climbers on Mt. Hood. This storm may literally kill them, if they’ve made it this far. Rescue teams, Helicopters — everyone’s grounded because of it.
I drive a pretty light car, so I stay at work until the worst of the wind has passed, just after 11pm. We have two deadlines the next day, and I’m making frequent backups to my laptop as I go, figuring that if campus loses power, I can drive however far it takes to find a kinko’s with electricity. I luck out — nothing goes out on campus or at home. But I read the next morning in the news that about 150,000 folks weren’t so lucky. Its the topic everyone’s chatting about on Friday passing in the hallways, waiting in line, buying coffee. Friday I work to my limit, downing chocolate bars and chips and coffee, coffee, coffee to keep me going. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I know this is bad for my training, but its just what I need to do. My one concession is to hydration — I drink lots of water and peppermint tea along with the junk. We make our midnight deadline, and I head home, exhausted. I’m scheduled to race a 12k the following afternoon, but as I crawl into bed, it seems totally unlikely. I haven’t prepped my clothes, don’t know if I even have any clean, and I feel as though I could sleep until Sunday. I set the alarm for 8am, and pass out.
Saturday, I stay in bed for awhile after the alarm. “Screw the race,” I think. “Why not just stay here under the comforter and rest??” I start to wake up, though, and the part of me that registered for the race, that wants the race, and that wants really really badly to finish the 50k wakes up too. I crawl downstairs to make some coffee. Its slow going, but eventually I have all my stuff together, get dressed and head out. I’m out of cereal, but at the last minute I find half of a sweet potato, cooked, in the fridge, so I take that along into the car, along with a mug of coffee. Breakfast of champions. The race is an hours drive away, and I’ve set out quite late. Looks like I’ll get there just before the start, so I may have to warm up in my first mile. The race is a 12k on the historic Columbia River Highway, in Hood River, and the course includes the Mosier Twin Tunnels. Its not a racewalk, no judges — I’m doing it for the workout, since the time won’t count. I make good time for awhile, then I have to slow a bit because gusts of wind are blowing my car some. I get through the windy spots, but then get stopped by an accident cleanup. We just inch along for a bunch, and now I’m forcing myself to take deep breaths, because I’m realizing that I’ll be lucky to just have time to jump out of the car before the race starts. When I see Mt. Hood I think of the missing climbers. With the break in the weather, right now dozens of people are up on that mountain searching. Every person in the area with climbing expertise is out there, and they’ve closed the airspace to avoid any interference. I exit the highway with only five minutes to the start, then take an excruciating wrong turn that puts me back onto the highway. Off I go three miles to the next exit, turn around, and three miles back. When I finally pull in, the parking lot’s full, but there’s nobody around. I spot a few folks at a picnic table, who look like they might be packing up some things, so I go over and ask if I can still race. They say “sure” but tell me I’ve missed the start by about five minutes. I figure I’m here now, may as well do the race, because otherwise I have to just drive home and workout there. Its another bit of time before I actually head out, since I need to get a parking ticket for my car and put on my shoes. Its pretty surreal to start out alone on a path and have that be my race start, but well, every day a new adventure, right? The Columbia River Gorge is gorgeous, even on a cloudy winter day, and the race has gotten me out here, if nothing else. After a short while, I start seeing runners coming back in the opposite direction — ah, 5k participants are headed to the finish line. I have some fun greeting the runners as they go by, although I feel like a salmon. There’s an orange cone at the 5k turnaround, with a sign on top, and some bottles of water on the side wall. I push on, thinking maybe if there’s some fitness walkers in the race, I can catch them. Soon before the turnaround, I see a walker, looks like maybe a racewalker. Aha! I have a target. I haven’t exactly been going slowly, but I pick it up. Coming in not last would be pretty cool, under the circumstances! After the turnaround, I’m on my own on the path, although a couple of walkers and joggers who aren’t in the race go by. A mile or so before the finish, a group of runners jogs up from the other direction. They’re runners who have finished the race and are jogging easily. They turn around and head to the finish with me. This is good fun, and having my own escort makes me feel pretty spoiled. One of them is trying to racewalk, failing miserably, but when he asks me if he’s legal I take the high road, saying only “well, its not legal to wear long pants, so neither of us is legal right now.” Its not so easy to land on a straight leg, it takes some practice. I finish, although I’m not sure if anyone really notices, and I never see the time they post for me, but I have my watch time. Incredibly, I’ve just finished one of my best efforts, doing just over 11 minute miles on average. I definitely feel as if I’ve just pushed. I drink some Gleukos, eat a banana generously provided, applaud for the announcements, then head back to Portland, where I stop at Burgerville for a cheeseburger, fries, and salad. Racing seems to just turn up the knob on my metabolism for the day, and although I eat all this around 5pm, I get out of bed at midnight, starving, and eat a huge bowl of pasta with cheese. That’s me, The Incredible Eating Woman.
Sunday, I head out to the bike path for 30k slow. Even I can’t believe I’m doing this, the day after the 12k race, but its on the schedule and I stick to my conviction that if I start allowing excuses for ignoring the schedule, I’m toast. Its cold but clear, and I’m pretty comfortable in a fleece vest and gloves. The Holiday Express train is running again today, and I’m quite startled at one point when I look up and see Santa Claus barreling down the train tracks in a utility car (this thing looks like a jeep but runs on tracks instead of road).
Drats — way too fast for me to ask for anything. There’s still some branches down on the path from the windstorm, and there are crowds for the train, but its mostly good conditions. I finish the last half mile “on fumes” as a friend says, but I finish it, get to the car, buy some groceries, and get home. My ankle’s hurting pretty badly, so sitting’s really lots better than standing, but making my pizza doesn’t take very long, and then I get to settle down to eat it.
While I’m cooking, I go online and see the news — the rescuers found a body on Mt. Hood today.