Flatlander Crash Canyon 50k or Attack of Moose and Squirrel
Brad and I left Tallahassee at 4am. We’re easy company except for things like race day. He was wanting to stop for breakfast. I’d been nursing a cold and a trick back for a week. I just wanted to get to there. It was a two-hour drive and I figured on having an hour to stretch, change clothes, set up our aid station.
We got to the park gate and there was a line of cars. The park wasn’t open when the RD said the gate would be open. They had to wake up the park ranger to let us inside. It was a cold wet morning. This was a small race. 28 people signed up and 21 showed for the party.
The RD gave everyone an extra 30 minutes to get things together. It messed me up. I ended up grabbing just a bag of Mi-del ginger snaps and a few packs of Honey Stinger gels for the race. I left my chair and race bag in the car. Brad grabbed his cooler. He had some cokes and Gatorade. He had our beer.
Everyone was standing in line around the one hitter john. I found the secret hidden multi use john. It felt like a mansion changing into my gear and sorting out my business in there. The other racers were managing a stuffed up toilet and I was doing toilet paper origami and sitting on one of many toilets putting on my shoes.
I finished up and found Brad wandering around nervously. This was his first ultra distance event. He’s run two marathons and they’d been stone cold bad scenes. He almost quit running both times. I wasn’t even sure why he agreed to do this.
Wait. That’s a lie. I told him the course was flat. You should never ask me for directions or advice. I misread the course description. I’d say it wasn’t well written but I’ve asked a few folks since and they all disagree. I’m just hardwired to miss the bad in a thing.
The course was a 10k loop down into Providence Canyon and up out of it again. The RD started us running the canyon edge and then had us drop down onto a steep switch back to the canyon floor, easy on the first loop, brutal on the last loop.
You reach the canyon floor. That’s when you cross the creek. He told us there would be water crossings. You get it set in your head that there will be water crossings. People just say that. Just the crossing, and over a tiny hill, you descend into the creek for two miles, two soggy shoed miles.
The creek water chewed at your feet, one waterlogged and sand gritty loop at a time. Brad was pissed. You got to imagine him, this being his first ultra, not needing one more thing to worry about even if he could stand running in wet shoes.
He could have run the creek edge if he didn’t mind managing balancing on crumbling dirt. Everyone tried running on the creek edge, and by loop three, everyone gave up and ran in the water. Everyone made the same joke on loop five that most of the water was probably in other runners shoes by then.
No one ever laughed. It was another case of easy on the first loop. Like I said, Brad was pissed. He’d brought these shiny new Brooks Ghosts. I warned him. Its like running Torreya with a someone who’d never run Torreya. You warn them. They always underestimate your warnings value.
The course leaves the canyon, climbing up a ¼ mile worth of hill to the middle aid-station that was run by the Boy Scouts who were the race’s recipient, and had standard race fair: Coke and orange slices. They had bananas but who cares. Bananas are a sucker’s move. If you have to ask, you’re the sucker.
I really had to watch my mouth around the scouts. That was tough. I remember some loop or another, I thought of this real filthy joke and looked over at these kids, paused and said to Brad, “I’ll tell you in a minute. Its just the filthiest joke I ever heard.” This one boy’s head nearly swiveled off his shoulders.
The next two miles, after the aid-station, were all up and down, no flat as such. The course has one of those butt slide down-hills where you either fly or skid and pray you don’t break an ankle. This last steep drop was just as hard first time as it was to run the last.
The last climb was steep and it took you out the canyon and up along the canyon’s edge for a half mile back to the start. I told Brad, “Hit the aid-station, get what you need and start walking.” That is not how things went down. Brad was in a panic.
The best way I know to run a 50k is to run easy, light and loose. That was in my head. Brad though was ticking miles and minutes, racing down the clock. He was racing against his own experience running marathons. He was ciphering all the times I had pushed the pace on training runs until we both fell apart.
We hit the first aid station and he was looking out over the next four laps, peeling his nerves apart, looking out over having to do that again and again again and again. He changed clothes, ate a bunch of food and stretched. I just watched the clock rolling away from us. I wasn’t helping things.
I should have seen that but once you get your race head on its hard to see it for what it is in the real world. I glared and bounced around like junkies look while their dealer is telling them a story about his Persian cat. Yeah, yeah, can I go now? I got to go.
I know that sounds contradictory. You run easy but you respect time passing. You hit the aid station, get what you need and keep moving. You might walk through it but you never stop at it. He set down a campsite with a zip code.
We headed out again. Same loop, same pattern. Run the down hills, cruise easy through the creek, walk the up hills, bomb the down hills, cruise the flats around the canyon. The second time at the aid-station I’d swear he was doing yoga. I swear to God, yoga.
I didn’t even know he knew yoga but there he was, all 240lbs of him doing upward facing dog and happy baby pose. I lost my cool a little and took off. I had to get moving. I hit the switch back, cruising past tourists and out of nowhere Brad was bombing past me.
And that’s how three loop went. He’d sprint way ahead, go hands to knees heaving up oxygen and I’d catch him. He’d bomb a downhill, I’d pass him on the uphill. He was wrecking himself. I should have known something was wrong. I’m not like that though.
I’m too selfish for that kind of thinking. I thought he wanted a race. Wait. I left out a piece. I can’t remember when this happened but he had said something about our pace. I hate that junk. I don’t run like that. I don’t want to know.
You get caught up in where you are and when you need to be at the next place and you start breaking things. Wheels come off. This wasn’t an A race. This wasn’t even a C race. This was just supposed to be something laid back and easy and here Brad was telling me our pace.
I had said something like, “The next time you think to tell me our time, maybe you just say it in your head.” I am a small stupid man. He’d been hanging on to my saying that for hours. I stopped running. I yelled at Brad to hold up but with a few extra words you ought not hear in this story.
This all started off with me getting to do something that I wanted him to love like I love. Standing there staring at him on the trail, it had become a duel or a fist fight, squared off and waiting for something to happen. I said, ‘Brad, I’m walking.” We finished loop three.
We stood around at the aid-station staring at each other. Brad walked over to the Boy Scouts. I walked over a few minutes later. They were talking about how to start campfires without matches or flint. Brad offered up a suggestion. I made a joke. We both started laughing.
Brad had these ice cold cokes in glass bottles. We drank a few of those. There is nothing like an ice-cold coke in a bottle in the middle of a race like this. We started walking and talking. We had the cut offs clear and away. We’d finish on time.
We spent the next four hours hiking trails and acting the fool. I don’t remember much of the conversation. It ain’t none of your business anyhow. We met a lady named Sarah. We talked to her a while. She headed off.
I got bit by a dog. There was this family up on the canyon edge with a big old lab. I’d been petting dogs all day and I just stepped up on this big boy like it was a kitten. It didn’t break the skin. He just took hold of my arm to say, “You’re too close to my family.” I took him at his word and walked on.
I imagine it would be like getting in a dust-up with a dude and realizing it was Wild Bill Hickok. You holster your gun and apologize walking backward in the opposite direction. The rest of the day was like that.
Random strange things mixed up with joking around and hiking. There were these three young ladies sunbathing on a canyon cliff edge. I’m pretty sure that was illegal but as it was near the end of the race, we held off saying anything about it as neither of us was sure it actually happened.
We came up on the finish and the race volunteers and the RD were breaking down the tents and tables. They had put down a cut-off we weren’t even close to missing but it was late and there was only one other runner behind us.
Anyhow, they saw us coming and started hootin’ and hollerin’. I would like to think it was the joy of seeing us finish and likely I’m right just for very different reasons. They gave us our finishers awards, a pint glass with the race name, and we stood around shooting the breeze.
Brad headed off to change and I sat in my car and caught my breath for the first time all day. It had been perilous. I remember my first 50k, how I almost dropped at mile 12 and how my wife accidently kept that from happening.
I told her that her job was to make sure I filled my bottles, grabbed some food and headed out to do the next loop. And, no matter what I looked like, say that I looked great. I came in to quit and before I could, I was on my way with a sandwich and a compliment.
Brad got back to the car. We cracked open the beer I’d brought, a bomber from the Snakebite 50k. I’d been looking for a reason to open it for and here we were, done with something big and still friends. I wished I had been like my wife. I wish I’d done my job.
That’s just not how things worked out and in the end all I could do was let it go and enjoy the cool evening air and the cold tasty beer. I put on some music. The RD was still waiting for the last runner when we drove off. I never did tell him that joke.