Thursday, April 21, 2011

Being Schooled (night classes)

Alexander - Luce's

Lesson 12: The incentive of other's demise

The checkpoint at Alexander Lake was like a triage tent. When I opened the door to the cabin the first thing that struck me was the quiet. The single room was filled with people, but most were either laying in beds or sitting in stunned silence. It was required to have your sleeping bag checked here to assure you hadn't swapped it out before the race. The volunteer working here spoke in hushed tones as she checked bags and checked up on sleeping racers. There wasn't much in terms of aid here, but I did get some hot soup and sat down by the fire after removing my layers. I looked around the room at all the folks in various states of disrepair and realized that I was actually feeling quite good.

While I sat one runner had started to head out and then returned to the cabin after collapsing  in the snow. The checkpoint woman helped him into the last remaining bunk. Not long after that Jamshid entered the cabin and started complaining about his vision. He didn't have any goggles and was worried he might have damaged his eyes in the cold. I was feeling enormously fortunate as I sucked down a second cup of soup. I decided not to waste too much time here. Seeing all these people and then learning there was another tent with even more people sleeping provided me motivation to get a move on.

I'm not an extraordinarily competitive person when it comes to these type of events, but I am aware that it is supposed to be a race. Nonetheless, I always experience a slight twinge of guilt at how other's ill fate can inspire me to positive feelings about my own situation. I wouldn't say it was anything as base as smugness. Though some of the people I'd seen were the same ones I'd noticed going out "hard" in the early miles, running up slopes. It's not that I felt an air of superiority because I am always well aware how much luck is involved in keeping oneself healthy during an event such as this. Besides, I had certainly made my share of mistakes along the course any one of which could have ended my race curled up in a cabin. I think that it mainly serves as a reaffirmation. Seeing others in a bad state reminds me that I'm doing relatively well. So, no matter how low I might feel, I should just get on with the race. 

Lesson 13: There's cold and then there's...

I hitched up my sled and set my sights back towards Luce's as I headed onto the dragging snow. Within the first mile I saw Beat, Jill and then Danni all heading towards the checkpoint looking well and in seemingly good spirits. This was one of the shortest sections, but it was the dead of night and I wasn't moving especially fast. I could feel the fatigue growing within me. I knew that the dawn would eventually revive me, but I had a few more hours of darkness until then. I was also aware that the time just before sunrise was generally the coldest of the day. Being sleepy was not making me feel any warmer.

I saw a light moving up ahead. I figured it was probably Hernan so I hustled to catch up. I don't know that the running gait moved me any faster, but it did seem to warm me up a bit. It seemed strange to run for warmth rather than for time. However, it turned out to be a very useful technique. I added an addition to something I'd learned earlier in the race. Sometimes walking is faster than running, but sometimes you run anyway. Apart from building up a bit of heat in my body, it also helped keep me awake. My mind had started to drift and the monotony of slowly trudging through the snow made it worse.

I caught up to Hernan and asked if he minded some company. Feeling a bit tired himself, he welcomed it. I don't know that we said more than a few words to one another along this section, but it was nice to have someone else to share the cold, dark hours. We took turns leading through, seeking out the narrow lines of packed snow created by bike tires. Whether following or leading, having someone with me on the trail helped me maintain lucidity. It did nothing, however, to keep me warm. I was pretty much in full kit short of digging out my giant down jacket. However, even with 3 layers on my hands, I could still feel the chill coming through to my fingers.

We descended back onto the river just as the sky began to lighten. With only a couple miles remaining to the checkpoint, we picked up the pace. It was unbelievably cold so moving faster was a welcome change on multiple counts. By the time we arrived, I was more than a little ready for a break. I didn't check the thermometer on the way in, but by the time we would leave at 8am it would still read -10. Given its more sheltered location and the fact that the air had warmed significantly by then, the temperature on course the previous night was easily 20-below.

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