Retrospective – The Extraterrestrial 51K – August 22, 2010

Every now and then I plan to post a review of a race I completed in the recent past – hence the title ‘Retrospective.’ Sometimes this will be a look back at races I’ve done several times, comparing my experiences and thoughts on how those particular races have changed (or not, as the case may be). Sometimes I will do a race just once and decide that once was enough (!) but it’s my goal to write about all the races I’ve done, primarily the marathons and ultra marathons, to help me remember so someday I can create scrapbooks of my races.

It was just about a year ago that I did the Extraterrestrial 51 K in Rachel, NV – this synopsis is adapted from a piece I wrote for Tales from the Darkside, the newsletter of the Darkside Running Club.

Most long distance runners and walkers can claim some pretty unusual experiences during their time on roads and trails and I am no exception. In August of the summer of 2010, I was almost abducted and I have the certificate to prove it! On a whim, I decided to sign up for the the Extraterrestrial Full Moon Midnight ultra in Rachel, Nevad, just outside the infamous Area 51. Here is a brief description from the race director:

Running along the fringe of the mysterious Area 51, this stretch of highway (375) has an overwhelming number of reported UFO sightings. So much so, that in 1996 the federal government officially named highway 375 the Extraterrestrial Highway. Not only is the ET Highway full of alien fun, it traverses some gorgeous scenery as well. At roughly 4000-5600 foot elevation, the high desert abounds with Joshua trees and other vegetation unique to the area. This road is also ‘open range,’ so don’t be surprised if you’re passing cows on course (from Marathonguide.com)

Since my husband is a UFO buff, I thought this would be a great destination race – I could get another ultra under my belt and Darcy would get a chance to visit the place that he had read about in so many of his books. We had a great time but it was exhausting. We left Florida early Saturday morning on the 6:15 am flight to Atlanta and then flew on to Las Vegas. It seems almost impossible in a regional airport as small as the one here in our small city but myhusband’s rollerboard (as well as those of two other passengers) managed to get left behind at the gate. He had a rolling backpack that would usually fit in the overhead bin of most planes, but in the small CRJ – 200s that fly out of our airport, the bins are way too small, so we had to pink-tag the carry-on bags and pick them up at the gate in Atlanta. Well, somehow, someone managed to not see the 3 bags that were left to be gate-checked. I was glad that it wasn’t my suitcase because I had all my racing gear stuffed in it. Anyhow, my husband’s backpack finallymade it to our hotel around 5:30 pm. We got a laugh out of how the airport staff managed to ‘misplace’ 3 pieces of luggage at a very small airport with only one plane and one gate open at that time of the morning.
We made it to our hotel, Hyatt Place on Paradise, right across from the host hotel, the Hard Rock. Since neither of us gamble and I cannot abide the smell of cigarette smoke, we were content to stay at a hotel that did not have a casino. The Hyatt was clean and quiet and turned out to be a good choice. We went to packet pickup at the Hard Rock around 4, just after it opened, and I got my chip, bib, and goody bag. Then back to the room to try to sleep. HUH! Sleep? No way, I was too wound up. I had forgotten about the time change, so I knew I would be totally exhausted during the race unless I got some rest, but what could I do?

At 8:30 pm, Darcy and I made our way to the buses lined up at the Hard Rock to take the 2.5 hour ride to Rachel. He stayed on the bus and rode to the finish line with other spectators and I got off the bus with the marathoners and ultra runners. Because the moon was almost full, it was beautiful, but still too dark for my aging eyes to see very well. I had come prepared for the cooler weather of the high desert, so I had worn my jacket, a ¾ length shirt, my Marathon Maniac singlet, my racing vest, and GLOVES. Yes, I brought gloves because my hands usually get cold. However, I didn’t need them at all. The weather turned out to be almost sultry, around 70 degrees, and I soon tied my jacket around my waist, rolled up my sleeves, pinned my gloves (and later my cap) to my jacket, and just enjoyed the pleasantly warm weather. I could handle the warmth, I could even handle the high altitude (which didn’t really seem to bother me), but the darkness – well, that was just plain hard to endure.
The race began right on time out in the middle of nowhere. There was one very long climb up a huge hill, a mountain really, and despite the steepness, I enjoyed the change in terrain because it gave my feet and legs a break. The only bad part about the hill was the fact that, at the top, the moon disappeared and stayed hidden the entire rest of the race. I had to use my flashlight during the 2nd half of the race because I could not see the road at all.

Hallucinations – yes, I had a few. Occasionally, I would think the people ahead of me were signs in the road. Even stranger, around miles 17 to 20, I thought I was surrounded by apartment buildings with windows with lights in them. I tried to shine my flashlight on these ‘buildings’ to prove that they were really stars, but I was still convinced I was in the middle of a city. Ahead of me there appeared to be stores and a downtown center. Really!

At mile 21, my ankles began to hurt and I couldn’t tell if it was because of the hard road surface or if I had simply tied my laces too tight. At this point I was beginning to think I would not be able to finish the ultra in the 8-hour time limit because I wasn’t able to go my usual pace – darkness and ankles were the two sticking points. But at the marathon turnaround at mile 23, I decided to forge ahead and try my best.
I headed towards the blinking lights of a police car at mile 26 – the turnaround for the 51 K. It looked like it was really close, but distances in the desert are very deceptive – it took me a long time to reach that turnaround. Once I did, however, I felt positive I would be able to finish in time and I even passed several other racers, including a few who were still trying for the marathon distance. Of course, it helped that dawn broke and I could see once again.

I finished in about 7:38 AND won my age group (okay, there was no other woman 60-69 crazy enough to try this distance out here – it still counts). That was a surprise! I received a neat hand-painted plaque as an award. All finishers received unique medals along with a buffet breakfast (but I had no appetite at that point).  While I was racing, my husband helped out at one of the aid stations and enjoyed visiting the Little Ale’Inn hotel and gift shop. I think he enjoyed the trip even though it was very tiring for him, too, and he didn’t even race. As a present, he purchased for me an official abduction certificate from the gift shop.

Tired but happy, we rode the bus back to Las Vegas (I slept most of the way) and once back at the hotel, I hit the shower, changed my clothes, and we headed out to the Paris Hotel on the Strip for a great champagne breakfast buffet. Back at the hotel, I slept deeply and woke up at 3 am to pack so we could leave for a 6 am departure. Because of flight delays, we didn’t return home until after 7 pm. No more lost luggage, though.

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