My husband, Wild Greg, can talk me into just about anything. And he knows it. In his defense, he is trying to support, coach, and encourage me as I prepare for attempting to run my first 13.1 “race.” Yep, that’s commonly called a half marathon, but the only person I’ll be racing is myself. I have only recently increased my longest runs to 12 and 13 miles. Today, he gently prodded me to attempt 15.
It seemed like a good Saturday to run in Idaho’s Owyhee desert, out near Wilson Creek. We headed toward Marsing on Highway 45 out of Nampa, feeling warm and cozy in the car. Highway 45 hit Highway 78 and we turned right. Just past a house (on our left) with a unique garden of small rocks jutting out of the dirt, there is a sign to Wilson Creek Road. There is also a big sign about beef.
A little way up Wilson Creek Road, on the right, is a small parking lot lined with big rocks. It has two big signs posted. Adjacent to it is the start of a road that heads off to the right, into the indistinct fields of sage brush being guarded by massive metal towers supporting power lines. It’s like walking into a scene that is a hybrid between the Old West and some Future Apocalypse.
Especially that day, since the gusting wind was blowing random dust devils and the power lines were singing eery warning notes in the wind. We were the only ones we saw on the road, other than the trope of one vehicle that stopped and asked if we wanted a ride. And we had our faithful dog. There was no water in sight and the road went on endlessly into the horizon. No traffic signals here.
The first 5 miles was straight into the wind and mostly up hill. I thought I was going to die. No, wait. I was having fun, reaching goals, and spending time with my husband. Hold that thought. Still, I felt like I was using twice as many steps to go half as far. The rocks were sharp under my Moc3′s, but the stability from the ground contact was absolutely necessary. More than once, rocks slipped under my feet and I would easily have twisted an ankle or done super human gymnastics if I hadn’t had the advantage of all my toe spread.
And I was breathing hard. With the wind blasting into my face while I muscling my way up the hills, my legs and my lungs were explaining oxygen debt to me in vivid terms. Wild Greg heard my breathing and reminded me to relax my diaphragm with breathing in. I know how to do this. I do it with playing my flute and singing all the time, but the fight for survival was making me tense. I managed to put the concept into practice off and on during the run and it made a big difference. In fact, I think running against the wind made it easier to be aware of what my stomach and diaphragm were doing. The extra air pressure on the outside of me was similar to putting a hand on my abdomen to feel what I was doing, something that obviously would have been hard to do while actually running.
Wild Greg mentioned we were near a place he had taken me once, with pretty water falls. I said I wanted to go there. He warned me that it had been muddy pools last time he had seen it. I thought, since I’m out here running around, why not? He said would have to go up this little hill…. We did that, then maneuvered the gully of an even rockier dry creek bed. Tucked back in that obscure little canyon was the spot. It was now completely dry. Someone had even set up a fire pit there! We are curious as to where all the water went. There surely should have been snow melting this time of year.
So, back to the main road, with only a little over 2 more miles into the unforgiving wind. We did our turn around at mile 9.2. I smiled to think that “all” I had to do now was run a 10K and we’d be back at the car. Last summer, I would have been more than done after 9.2 miles. It was fun to have made so much progress.
The road surface was less rocky for a while in this section. It was fabulous to have the wind at my back, but there were enough rocks and ruts, plus I had tired legs. I needed to enjoy semi-flight with caution. My Garmin started going nuts, so from this point on, I had very little idea of how far I had gone. The extra miles, combined with the erratic pace due to road conditions made it even harder to judge.
At what I hoped was near mile 13, I came to a very steep hill. Even with the wind behind me, my legs just stopped running. The cheerful photographer (Wild Greg), who had been constantly running far ahead to get pictures of me coming, or waiting long behind for a shot, then running hard to catch up, was waiting to take a picture showing how tough I was. Ha. Still, I only walked less than 1/10th of a mile to get to the top. Then, I was happy to find that my legs responded again. Otherwise, it would have been a long walk back.
I began having more trouble tripping over rocks, so had to concentrate on lifting my feet. This had the happy effect of making me feel a little more joy in my running. This in spite of my right leg starting to seriously cramp up. But since all along the run I had had brief encounters with everyone of my past aches and pains, I figured I could work through this, too. Between the rocks and the cramping, though, my form morphed into that of a person who looked like she had been on a horse too long and had just escaped from 10 years hard labor. It wasn’t pretty, but it got me there.
A casual survey of the desert might leave one with the impression that it is mostly flat. This is not true. I had a very hard time telling where the road was going all the time. We could not see the car until we were about 1/4 mile from it. There was not sprinting at the end of this run, but there was supreme satisfaction. I had done it. I, at age 52, had run 15 miles in
the lunar landscape on the bright side of the moon the Owyhee desert and lived to tell about it.