I’ve had the same dream every night since completing The Franklins, a 200-mile individual footrace directed by Trail Racing Over Texas that took place February 6-10th at Franklin Mountains State Park in El Paso. In my dream it is night, and I am hiking an endless, steeply-inclined mountain of red-hued talus and scree. My headlamp illuminates the never-ending stretch of trail four feet at a time. The hollow scrape of rock against rock and the scream of 50-mph wind gusts compete for my attention. Even in my dream I can feel the throbbing pain in my right IT band. Every night for the past six nights I have had this dream, and every night for the past six nights I wake in a pool of sweat.
Every morning I wish I were still out there. Every morning I tell myself I would do it again.
Heading up / Photo by Edward Sousa
The Franklins are a north-south oriented mountain range nestled at the southern tip of the Rockies. Do not allow yourself to be fooled into minimizing mountains in Texas. They will humble you; they certainly humbled me. The 200-mile course began with a half-marathon opener, which included the 7,192’ North Franklin peak, followed by five 38-mile loops. Each loop included a trip up North Franklin, resulting in six total ascents of the mountain. In the end, my beloved Garmin read 201.6 total miles with 43,360’ elevation gain.
Signing in at North Franklin Peak for the fifth time / Photo by Julie Schmal
I can tell you more statistics. I can give you all kinds of fascinating data - the geography of the region, the stratigraphy and uplift of the rock, the degree angle of the trail ascent, the mileage between aid stations, but I don’t want to. It doesn’t matter to me. What matters to me are the people who showed up in big ways all weekend to support me as I ran-hiked in a counter-clockwise circle for 84:25:45.
Katherine crewed four runners, including me, and somehow always seemed to magically appear at aid stations with bags of tacos and a smile. Joe paced me for over 60 miles, reminded me to eat and drink, and conjured laughter from the depths of my exhaustion with his sharp humor. Julie showed up at the start/finish wearing a burrito costume, paced me for 15 miles, and taught me how to choose the best rocks for wiping my ass during a bathroom emergency (key characteristics include long, flat, and smooth). I hope you have a friend in your life who is willing to find you rocks for bathroom emergencies. I hope you’re willing to be that person for someone else.
Heading down North Franklin for the sixth and final time / Photo by Joe Schmal
I could describe to you the drama of the ultra highs and lows. I could tell you how I lost vision in my left eye during the second loop due to corneal edema, and how I stumbled along rocky, technical trail in the dark (because of course it happened at night), and how difficult it was to navigate trail and understand depth perception with only one functioning eye, but I would prefer to tell you about my friend Edward.
Me and Edward at Mile 94 / Photo by Katherine Fuglaar
Edward was also racing, and he hiked the last fifteen miles of the second loop with me to ensure I got back to the start/finish safely. I had anticipated moving more quickly, so I wasn’t wearing as many layers as I should have. When I couldn’t stop shivering, Edward gave me his vest. When I still couldn’t stop shivering, Edward gave me his jacket, too. I hope you have a friend in your life who is willing to pause their own goal to support your safety. I hope you’re willing to be that person for someone else.
I could go on in detail about the bottomless pit of fatigue during the fourth and fifth loops, and how badly I wanted to sleep, and the exquisite pain in my right knee, but what I really want to tell you about are all of the people who came to mind during these last two loops. I thought of my two amazing nieces, ages 11 and 9, and how by the time I was 11 I had already learned to hate my thighs and worry about belly fat. I thought about how these thighs and this stomach were now carrying me up and over mountains, again and again, and how grateful I am for this body. I thought of the ex-boyfriend who told me I was worthless, and how I believed him for a long time – until the day I no longer did, and the freedom that came with owning my story and knowing my worth. I thought of so many people while out on the trail, and how each person contributed to my journey. I hope someday you are able to recognize the people across the spectrum who have shaped your journey. I hope you know you are already that person to someone else.
I could tell you about the custom belt buckle I earned, or what I won for coming in second place female, or what it feels like to know I placed eighth overall, or how happy and proud I am of my friend Dustin finishing fifth and Edward finishing seventh, but none of that matters compared to the finish line hugs. Race Director Rob Goyen gives the best finish line hugs, and during the entire five-day event he slept only 14 hours so he could be there to hug every single 200M/200K finisher. Each of my friends hugged me and held me tight, and it was the best feeling. I regret very little about this race, but I wish I would have given hugs earlier and more often. I hope you have people in your life who are willing to hug you even when – especially when - you’re incredibly dirty and smelly. I hope you’re willing to be that person for someone else.
Trail Racing Over Texas / Stasulli Photo
Every morning I wish I were still out there. It’s not practical right now, as student loans and other adult responsibilities beckon, so in the mean time I look forward to the same miserable dream each night, and I’ll seek out opportunities during the day to be that person for someone else.