Update 8.18: Got an email today from the race director. Runners have noted the results mix ups … the official results, minus the 10k runners listed in the half-marathon results, will be posted next week. “This is what happens when people register for one race and then run another,” she explains. I don’t envy the chaos she had to deal with! I emailed her back, promising to return with a pack of Dallas runners. Who’s in?
“So just keep heading north on the 93 …”
“Wait. North? We are on 93 south,” I reply to my passenger.
This is bad. We left Las Vegas 30 minutes ago and have been driving in the wrong direction. I go from giddy to panic-stricken in half-a-minute.
This race — at midnight in Rachel, Nevada, 180 miles from civilization — has been a long time planning, and now it appears that I’m not going to make it.
I want to cry, but I don’t want to scare my friend; Marlena has traveled with me from San Diego, and we have put hundreds of miles on her car. I even talked her into running — “just run the 10k,” I had begged two nights ago. “It will be easy — no hills — and soooo much fun!”
(The bus from Vegas to the race sold out and I had only booked one seat, hence my precarious position behind the wheel.)
A spooky stressed-out silence settles over the formerly giggly, hyper-talky Jeep Cherokee. We get on track and set out on the darkest, slimmest highway I’ve ever encountered. After 50 miles or so, we finally begin to speak.
“If we miss the race, we will just run,” we agree. “That’s what we are here to do: run the Extraterrestrial Highway. We will do it anyway.”
After that, I confess that every time a truck passes us, I expect us to die a firey death.
Close to our destination, driving along the mysterious Area 51, we see two buses — buses carrying runners. We holler and high five each other. The buses got lost too! The buses got lost too! The race, we hear as we park, will start 30 minutes late. I look to that glowing moon in the sky and thank its maker. We still have ourselves a race!
We hop on the bus that takes runners to the various starts — a 10k, half-marathon and 51k. In all the chaos, we’ve both boarded a half-marathon bus. Problem: Marlena, who has a half-marathon race scheduled next weekend, is supposed to run a “very easy 10k.”
She says she’s OK with the present situation, but I see her squeeze her little asthma-inhaler thing-y in her throat about five times during our bouncy ride to the start.
I feel crappy. Not only did I drag my friend out on a life-threatening road trip (did I mention the bulls that blocked us on the highway? “They are going to charge,” Marlena screamed as I tried to reach for a camera. “Go!” …I didn’t get the picture) to the middle of the desert, but now she’s gotta run 13.1 miles, six of them straight uphill—at 5,000 elevation, no less.
She is brave and a little crazy, which is why we are friends, so I know she will have fun once things get underway. (If not, she will at least relish telling and re-telling the story.)
We run together near the back of the pack for a minute, but she insists that I go ahead.
Godspeed, I wish her, as I slowly begin to pass people. These people are glowing, wearing lights on all body parts and fluorescent leggings and socks and headgear. They are dressed as aliens and in some cases, inexplicably, wearing pink tutus.
By mile three, there are only a scattered few people within sight. We are all breathing hard. The incline is increasing. There is no clock. No Garmins. Out here, we don’t need Garmins (and can’t, for the life of us, get a GPS reading).
I keep telling myself this half marathon is actually a 6.5-mile race (just get to the top) because we have a downhill second half. But mile six is tough and at the end of it, I feel dizzy and nauseated. I am making this weird wheezing noise. What the f*&k am I doing? It’s a compulsive and rhetorical thought at this point.
As things flatten out, I catch my breath and then I fill my lungs with the desert air — about 72 degrees at the start, it feels significantly cooler now. Earthy smells — minerals and roots — reign in the darkness. Though sight is minimal, I can see the road descending ahead, lit by a full bright moon.
I smile, stretch my arms to the sky and I hit the gas. I pass two guys and I am alone. I am flying. My feet on road make the only sound. I see two of a million stars drop from the sky into a rumpled bed of mountains and mist. I drift in a meditative state for minutes upon minutes.
At the mile-eight water stop (one of three) a man says, “Here comes our first young lady”.
Wow… what?! I think. I am first? This is crazy! In the distance I see a few reflective lights of what must be the male leaders.
Mile nine is spent imagining my glorious first-place finish. Will I break the tape? ESPN? Television reporters? Do they have television here in Rachel, Nevada (population 93)? Some late-announced prize money? A podium and laurel wreaths? Ahhh, my old friend Delusions of Grandeur … I have missed you.
Turns out that the 10k runners, coming from the other direction, merge just before the finish with the half marathon runners and marathoners too. So I cross the finish line with a time of about 1:36 and a “congratulations 10k runners!” from the guy on the mic.
A few minutes later, I plunge back into the darkness to find Marlena. It’s dark, but I think she’s grinning when I see her. “Is that you?” I yell. Yes! She waves at me as she breezes across the finish line in well-under two hours.
We take some pictures at the Little Ale E Inn before hopping a bus back to our car. The 2.5-hour ride home was like a sleep deprived peyote comedown peppered with moments of awe brought on by the sight of the early desert sunrise.
I mumble something about how amazing it is.
Marlena replies (and I share her sentiments), “I wish I didn’t feel so cracked-out.”
Oh, and sadly for my ego, which regularly gets its sh*t kicked out, the race results show two 10k runners in the half-marathon top ten, including a female. I guess it’s not a big deal (BS), and I got my trophy anyway — a jar of green bath salts, which I had to leave with my sister in Las Vegas because it’s not airplane friendly.
She says she is trying her best to care for them, but “they are melting.”
Note: Another Dallas runner, 56-year old Jeff Venable, ran the 51k. Sorry I never got a chance to see him!