I returned recently from a week-long vacation in the wilds of southern Utah just miles from Zion National Park. If any of you have been following the news of late, you might have heard about the tremendous wildfires that are being fought in that area of the country right now. Our travel was affected somewhat by the fires, forcing us to drive through stretches of freeway surrounded by scorched landscape, shooting flames and billowing smoke. Nevertheless, the scenery at the ranch where I stayed for several days was beautiful... a breathtaking portrait of nature.
Equally breathtaking was the higher elevation... a difference I didn't realize until I set out to train in it. Now, I don't exactly live at sea level here in Idaho, but suddenly, running at 4,800 feet at home seemed like a walk through the clouds. Sucking in 2,000 less feet of air during the course of each run took my lungs some getting used to. Add in the stifling heat (didn't matter that it was a "dry heat") along with the copious amount of long, steep hills and what was supposedly intended to be my fallback week turned out to be my most grueling week of marathon training yet.
And that's not even the worst part.
There's a number of critters to be found in the mountains of Utah. Some are cute and furry and some are... well... not so much. While driving an ATV across a dirt path one afternoon, a cousin of mine happened across a critter of the slithery type: a full-grown nine-year-old (according to its tail) rattlesnake. A staff member of the ranch promptly came out with his shotgun to dispose of the snake. Once the deed was done, there was a dead, headless reptile with which to entertain and delight the rest of the family (especially the children and women). I, unfortunately, was one of the entertainees.
Now, I'm no sissy. I can sleep in the pitch-black dark or kill a big, hairy spider with the best of them. I just really don't care to see snakes if I can help it... dead or otherwise. The shotgun had done its damage and even though I tried to admire the beautiful features of this animal, I couldn't help but get a major case of the willies just looking at it (the fact it was dripping blood from its previously-attached head didn't help matters). A smaller rattler paid a visit to our cabin the next morning, cozying up on the porch just outside the kitchen door. Once discovered, it too met an untimely demise.
Then there's Brilliant Me... heading out by myself at six in the morning to do my training runs on the mountain roads of southern Utah. Try as I might, I couldn't get the thought of the snakes out of my head. What if I come up on one on the side of the road? What if one slithers across the path right in front of me? What if I startle one as I pass by? I was so consumed with the what-if's of a possible rattlesnake encounter that I didn't notice until the last second the long tread of black tire rubber discarded in the middle of the road.... coiled up just like a snake.
Now, I wouldn't say I wet my shorts (much). But I'll admit I let out a good, hearty girl-scream. I think if I were wearing a heart monitor, it might've shorted out.
When I wasn't on snake watch, I had to look out for bunnies. (Jackrabbits, I suppose, would be the more accurate term.) They darted out of everywhere, with no warning whatsoever. And those suckers are fast! If I'd have strapped my GPS onto one of their little fluffy tails or around their funny long ears, I bet you anything it would have registered a sub five-minute mile. Of course, I imagine they have to be fast in order to avoid becoming the mid-afternoon snack for a coyote or a mountain lion or heaven forbid, a piece of black tire rubber.
So, that was my week of vacation training. I'm rather relieved to be back home, where I can run at my comfortable elevation, on flat surfaces, in semi-bearable heat and without menacing critters threatening to outrun me or make me wet my shorts (much).
Ahhh... home sweet home!