By MISTY GAUBATZ
I signed up for the Pengelly Double Dip having no idea what I was getting myself into. I may even have been mildly intoxicated. Mildly.
But hey, I could run 13 miles, and even if I got tired along the way, it would just be a walk in the woods right? 2,700 feet in elevation gain–what did that even mean?
After going up the trail to the M, and running along the fire road, I was in great spirits. Surrounded by thousands of wildflowers on a sunny morning, nothing could be better. The M trail is pretty steep, and that wasn’t too bad, so I figured the rest of the race couldn’t be any worse. I snapped pictures, told jokes, ate gummy bears, and had a great time running with Kamal, my better half.
And then the trail started to climb. And climb. And climb. And pretty soon, I lost sight of all of the other runners. They must just be over this hill. Nope. OK, they must be over this hill. This hill? This next hill? Oh here they come–look out!
As I was trudging up some very steep terrain, several much fitter trail runners came barreling down toward me. There was no stopping them, and I wouldn’t have wanted to stop them – they were magnificent! I used their speed and the narrow single track trail as a good excuse to step to the side and stop intermittently. Oh no, I wasn’t stopping because my legs were getting sore, but out of pure courtesy, of course. I was being polite, not being a wimp. After all, this was only mile four or five, even if my knees were convinced it was mile 13 already.
There are two “false peaks” on the Double Dip course. The third peak straight up toward the big sky was where the margaritas were. Yes, margaritas, Jimmy Buffett music, and a distinctly tropical vibe were at the UM beacon ready to lift my spirits.
That’s when the snow started to fall.
My stomach would definitely not handle a margarita, so I settled for some sports drink that I watered down and took in the sweeping view of the Missoula Valley that I had only ever seen in such perspective from an airplane. Brrrr . . . It was time to head down. This should be easy. Downhill is always easier, right?
I only fell on my butt once on the way down, and sort of glided along the pebbles for a few yards at a time, but I think there were times I may have gone even slower down hill than up! My knees were surely breaking, and I was getting crabby. Very crabby. In fact, the other runners on the course can be thankful that they are so much faster than I am because I was not any fun to be around right about then. Sorry, Kamal.
One more peak to climb. When I got there, I was the last runner to reach that point. I use the term “runner” loosely, since I probably only ran about one-fourth of the course and had to hike the rest. I was learning the good hard way that miles on trails are definitely not the same as miles on the road.
There was a bluebird perched on a dead tree enjoying the view with me. There was also a little devil perched on one of my shoulders urging me to just have a little rest here. Maybe a nap. No one would notice. I snapped myself out of it, ignored that idea, ignored the sharp sting in my knees, and kept on.
At one point during the last third of the course, I got a rock stuck inside my shoe. I didn’t notice that my hands had swollen up until I tried to retie my shoelaces after removing the pebble. It took several tries for me to make a simple bow. My fingers looked like fat pink sausages. I’m still not sure why that happened, but I figured that it would be best not to pay too much attention to that, or to my aching knees, or to my queasy stomach as I continued on. And on. And on. And, I think I might be lost.
I hadn’t seen another runner for quite some time now. I knew that I was behind everyone, but this far behind? The trail kept going. No sign of anyone. No ribbons in the trees. No chalk arrows on the ground. No dropped gummy bears on the trail. Just gorgeous Montana mountain wilderness. I started to get a little worried, but kept going. This trail had to lead somewhere, even if it wasn’t to the finish line. Um, where is everyone?
After what seemed like an eternity on that trail, I heard a bell ringing behind me. Angels? Am I dead? No, it wasn’t quite that bad. It was the sweep guys in track suits with enormous clocks tied around their necks like Coleridge’s albatross. How embarrassing to be caught by the sweep. And how reassuring. I must actually be on the right trail.
Another eternity passed as I ran on. And just when I thought I could not take one more step, LO! The Kim Williams Trail! Familiar territory! I was almost there! Come on knees, let’s go! No really, let’s go. OK, I had to settle for a sort of limp-shuffle-along thing since my knees wouldn’t do actual running.
It had been a little over four hours, and I was pretty sure no one would be at the finish.
Yes, I said four hours! For a half-marathon. I thought the finish line would be taken down and everyone would have left. I was completely disappointed in myself, exhausted, and embarrassed. What a loser I was! My only two goals going into this race were: Don’t be last; and finish under four hours. I had failed both.
As I ran toward what I believed would be an empty parking lot, I saw the big blue inflatable finish line. It was still up! And there were people there! Only about half a dozen people, but people! Usually I sprint to the finish line of a race, but this time I was lucky to still be jogging.
I took Kamal’s hand and we headed toward the end. My friend Kelsi even ran up and finished the last 100 or so yards with us, after she had just run the course! Pat hit the stop watch as I crossed the finish, and Maria Walton, La Mariposa was there to greet me with a hug!
I was dead last! But I did it. I finished that course.
At that moment, I went from extreme disappointment in myself to feeling something like a mild elation. No matter what my knees may feel like the rest of the week, it was all worth it. I’m so glad that I completed this race, although I was in no way prepared for its challenges.
But I will be next year!
Planning to run the 2012 Missoula Marathon? Check out Eva Dunn-Froebig’s post about the marathon training program.
Stay in the loop with Missoula’s running community! Check out the Run/Walk It archives for more posts from Missoula runners and walkers.
Misty Gaubatz lives and works in Missoula. She enjoys running with her spouse Kamal Fox, and sometimes with their dog Keedus who has an irrational fear of beeping watches. Misty hopes to complete the Missoula Marathon this summer with her two big sisters.