“Go run 50 miles,” they said. “It’ll be fun,” they said.
See, I am a sucker for a dare. And a few months ago, one of my running buddies dared me to attempt to run fifty miles at the 24 Hours of Palmer Lake Death Race/Fun Run, held just north of Colorado Springs every April.
“It’ll be great!” they said. “And soooo easy! I mean, come on, Ruth, it has the word ‘Fun’ right there in the title!”
That should have been my first clue that this particular ‘friend’ is also a big fat liar - because clearly an event that also goes by the name of “Death Race” will be anything BUT easy.
But I’m a little slow sometimes - so gullible me, I skipped over to my computer, registered for the challenge, and began to dutifully train for my first ever 50-mile run attempt.
Now in case you haven’t heard of this particular fun run before, here’s how the Palmer Lake Death Race works:
1.You show up.
2.You run as many .82 mile laps around Palmer Lake as you can, like a demented Energizer bunny, until either:
A) 24 hours have passed,
B) You quit, or
C) You die
Whichever comes first. Sounds simple enough in theory. Yes?
Since I want to avoid death, I spent months doing everything I could to prepare myself for such a Herculean task . I ran for hours and hours around Trinidad Lake until I knew every local fisherman by name. I invested my life savings in special high-tech, state-of-the-art running shoes that guaranteed right on the box to endow me with nearly-superhuman endurance. I cross-trained, vitamin-stacked, and carb-loaded. I thought I had planned for everything.
But I hadn’t. I forgot to check the weather forecast.
Now, let me backtrack for a moment and brag. I lost a whopping 40 pounds during the course of my training. So when I envisioned myself running at Palmer Lake, I really let my imagination go wild. I fantasized about how I would show off my new, svelte physique in a strappy tank top and shorty-shorts, bounding around the lake like a lithe gazelle, ponytail bouncing in the breeze. It would be epic. I’d be a running Barbie doll.
As I was packing my bags mere days before the Death Race, I whipped out my phone to check the weather forecast. Scrolling through my weather app to the day of the run, my heart sank.
Freezing temperatures. Snow.
I hadn’t planned for this.
With great sorrow, I pulled the shorty-shorts and strappy tanks out of my running bag, and replaced them with wool socks, thermal underwear and fleece hoodies.
Swaddled in so many layers of clothing that I looked like an over-stuffed penguin, I waddled up to the starting line of the run at Palmer Lake on race day — and the weather forecast hadn’t been an exaggeration. Dark, heavy snow clouds drifted across the skyline, obscuring the surrounding hills. A mix of slush and gropple pelted my face as I peered out at the frozen world from beneath my ball cap and earmuffs. The trail itself was lost beneath a layer of icy sludge.
How? In? The? World? Was? I? Going? To? Run? 50? Miles? In? This?????????
As we started the race, like a herd of elephants lumbering through knee-deep peanut butter, our pack of runners slowly edged forward across the starting line, sloshing our way along the slick trail. In low spots, standing water had completely inundated the path, forcing us to either soak our feet in the freezing waters or carefully tiptoe around the edges of the slop.
Running buddy Jeff and I huffed and puffed our way around Palmer Lake, making it back to the starting point after what felt like an icy eternity. We both clicked our lap counters — one.
One lap down. Sixty more to go.
The day dragged on, minutes turning into hours, one lap blurring into another as we dodged fatigue and hypothermia in our quest to hit our running goals. As wave after wave of winter weather caught us, we watched as Palmer Lake appeared and disappeared in a mix of heavy fog, drizzle, and snow. Once, from the west, we heard a distant rumble. Astonished, we turned to one another and exclaimed, “Thundersnow!”
The boredom we battled during the endless march around the lake was relieved periodically by spontaneous silliness. Once, I was passed by a fellow Death Racer who was loping along full-throttle, wildly singing, “This Is The Run That Never Ends…” A few hours later, the race organizers handed out gigantically oversized, lemon-yellow ten-gallon hats to all the runners; we looked like a parade of psychedelic bananas as we continued to bob around the course.
As the day gave way to night, I knew that my body wouldn’t last much longer. The freezing temperatures and exhaustion had brought on a case of uncontrollable shaking that I couldn’t fight off.
Short of my 50-mile goal, I decided to gladly settle for 43.5 miles, still a personal best for this running Barbie doll/penguin/elephant hybrid. I dragged myself to the finish line, turned in my bib, and limped away, grateful for having survived to race another day.
And that, my friends, is how one outruns the Reaper at Palmer Lake.