Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Midnight Run: the arrival

There is something so precious and beautiful about waiting until the perfect moment to arrive at a goal and then meeting that goal.

Every musher thinks their dogs are wonderful. And I'm no different. I'm in awe of my dogs.

Freya freight train hugs a volunteer at the vet check the day before race day

Maybe it's the lack of sleep catching up to me, but I have been an emotional roller coaster this morning, overwhelmed with gratitude and humility about my awesome dogs and our most memorable journey. So I decided to brew a big pot of coffee, sit down, and write about it.

I signed up for the Midnight Run in 2009, but withdrew on the advice of several "elder mushers"who said I wasn't ready. At that time it was a bitter pill to swallow, but in hindsight, they were correct.

A reoccurring thought I had while on the Midnight Run trail this past weekend was how sweet it is to arrive at the perfect moment in time to reach a goal: capable, confident and relaxed. I used to worry and stress about getting to goals, to the point where I almost forced things, and the Universe always had a way of smacking me down and reminding me that the time wasn't right. Similarly, the Universe rose to meet me this weekend with blessings and a clean run. Now the Midnight Run - our first 90 mile checkpoint race - is under our harnesses, and I am savoring with gratitude its arrival.

Here are some thoughts (and photos) from the race trail and the experience.

The Race: "That was pure wild animal craziness!" Mr. Fox
For once, there is no harrowing story to tell. We arrived downtown in Marquette, MI at our designated time of 5 p.m. to prepare for the ceremonial start, set to kick off at 7:10 p.m. We had plenty of time for our bag check, set up, and to mingle and talk with friends. The ceremonial start was an amazing experience that I will never forget, and I was honored to see hundreds of people lined up along the start to watch the teams in their sled dogger procession down Washington Street.

My awesome handler, Emily Wade,  rockin' her infamous sock monkey hat at the ceremonial start

Friends and mentors, Larry and Joann Fortier of Coyote Run Kennel at the ceremonial start

My friend, fellow writer and sister from another mother, Michelle Hogan (right) and me before the ceremonial start
We then had to drive to Chatham for the real start, and this was a bit intense. After the drive, parking, and getting my gear ready and new runner plastic on (thanks to the volunteers who helped), we literally made it to the starting chute in the nick of time! It was quite intense.

We headed out into the night at 10:27 p.m., bib #107 (seventh out of the chute): alone with my eight best friends, and I thought to myself, "okay, this is it."
 I didn't feel nervous like I thought I would, however; I felt completely ready. The trail was super well-marked, fast, but packed enough to hook down, and we had a totally clean run for the most part. I decided to run Yeti, my main leader, and I am sure glad I did: we didn't miss a single turn, and my three-year old female, Big Brown, led with Yeti the entire 90 miles!

The dogs were on fire and held their pace well on the first leg. Larry Fortier, husband to my main mentor Joann, tried once to pass us, but couldn't quite make it. Then about 20 miles in, I slowed a bit and let him pass; then he couldn't shake us! My GPS clocked our fastest speed at 15.9 mph. Around 2:30 a.m. we hit a very slick flat patch, and I was amazed when I called the dogs up, after running for four hours, and they hiked up, all loping beautiful through the night.

Midnight Riders: my team loping along around 2:30 a.m. on the Midnight Run trail

We arrived to the checkpoint back at Chatham at 3:28 a.m. - almost exactly five hours after leaving. The checkpoint summary is here

Emily, my other handler Ron, and I quickly and quietly fed the dogs, checked feet, massaged, rubbed, jacketed and blanketed the dogs. Yeti literally melted in his straw bed, he was so tired. We then all climbed into my truck and I was amazed at how quickly I fell asleep. I had worried the whole time about the lack of sleep more than anything, but after three hours of hard sleep, the alarm went off at 7 a.m. and I awoke feeling surprisingly good!

As we emerged, shaking sleep from our hair, Larry Fortier called me over to his truck.

"Wow, your dogs looked great last night!" he said. "First I couldn't pass you, and then I couldn't shake you!"

I beamed with pride at this compliment from my friend and a musher I admire. "Thank you, Larry! I was as surprised as you were!"

There was only one spot where I had problems that first leg and had to stop the team.  It was a very sharp left turn where the trail began to loop back to Chatham. A musher before me had apparently taken a left turn too soon and cut into the trees just a hair before the actual turn. I saw someone lost their lead dog's blinky light in the deep snow here.

My dogs followed this trail, and it was nearly a 180 degree left turn; I dumped the sled here, and it was a doozy of a dump. I was dragged briefly before landing on my knees and righting the sled, and then I lost time trying to right my hooks, which had flown somehow under the runners and were tangled. It was here that several mushers finally caught up to me and passed me. I was bummed.

It was here I also received my race war wound.

Not the greatest picture, but this is my left knee after the race
Regardless, the dogs came in tired but strong. We were set to depart the next morning at 9:14, and I didn't know what to expect of the dogs since I had never asked them to run a second leg after running 48 miles before.

The first mile of the second leg: a vast white expanse that reminded me of a photo that could have come from the Iditarod

Almost immediately, I noticed they were off. Yeti, my leader, stopped to poop right away, and had awful diarrhea. Then Ruffian, my other leader, stopped and had the same thing. Then Miles, then Freya...

My worst suspicions were confirmed when Yeti stopped dead and promptly projectile vomited his breakfast all over the trail.

My dogs had caught a virus. We struggled on the second leg. Our average speed was only 7.5 mph, and we stopped frequently for the effects of this virus to work itself out. We were down to a march rather than a run; still, we marched on.

Aside from the virus, we had a flawless run. No tangles, chewed necklines or escapees (see the previous post about Aspen's get away here). The last five or six miles of this leg was quite intense and was the most technically challenging of my racing career thus far. Hair-pin turns wound around trees and down moguls left by snowmobiles. I literally saw the imprint of a musher's body and sled in a snow bank along these hills. Still, we had a clean run.

My friend and fabulous photographer and supporter, Dino, shot this photo of us running along the railroad bed. I was munching on a Cliff bar :)
We finished our rookie Midnight Run in 27th place out of an original starting line up of 31 teams. Two people scratched. And we didn't get the red lantern.

Coming over the finish!

I have so much gratitude for everyone that helped to make this season happen. Yesterday, as I walked outside to check the mail, I teared up thinking of what an incredible season we had, and how lucky I am to have such amazing canine athletes to share my life with. My dogs inspire me to reach higher, run stronger, do more. I have an overwhelming amount of love and patience for them - really, I am in awe of them. They are the best bunch of doggers ever!

A special Mush Love Call Out: I want to say a special "mush love" to my sponsors this season, to my parents for helping out with keeping things moving at home while I was away training and racing, and to Chris. Without all of you, this season would not have happened. I also want to recognize my amazing handler, Emily Wade, without whose help during this weekend I would have surely crumbled. I also want to say thank you to Jodi Bailey, David Gill, and Joann Fortier for their friendship and mentoring along the way.

1 comment:

  1. Shannon, Love the picture of you and your dogs coming over the finish line. I hope you see many more in your mushing career. You did it-- Congratulations!!!



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