Dogmeat. That’s what locals and trail runners call a 1.4 mile long fire road in the mountains near Los Gatos. Its real name is Priest Rock Trail, but with its 1,000-foot elevation gain, this loving nickname describes much better what your legs, back, core, and brain will feel like after you finish scrambling to the top.
Once a year, this trail hosts a no-aid stations, no-support, and no-nonsense race called Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. Dogmeat is the sole focus of this race. You go up and down on repeat until you can’t go no more, and then you go up and down again. For 50 kilometers (31 miles), which is 10 repeats. You can also opt out to do the “fun run,” which is what I did. “Fun run” means you go up and down “only” 5 times; a 30K (18 miles) race.
The “official” start time was between 7 and 8, but you can start anytime, since Duke, the guy who “should have cut himself off at 3 beers before coming up with this idea,” as he himself says, uses Strava recordings for timing. And so I started at 6, still in dark, so that I had at least a chance at being done before having to leave for an event in San Francisco. (For which I had to wear high heels. After all that.)
<= me, at 4am, before realizing the weight of what I’ve done to myself by signing up for this
First off, before starting Dogmeat, everybody has to haul their own aid station 2 miles and 1,000 feet up to the saddle where Dogmeat begins. This race is the only one I know of that literally forces you to stretch and do a little workout before you start trying to destroy your body in as little time as possible.
By the time I got up and dumped my “aid station” in the bushes, the daylight started to spill over the hills. There was nothing else separating me from following through with possibly the worst decision of my life; it was time to start running. Although “running” is a strong word to be used to describe the crawl up the hill.
I got up the first part of it, already praying for it to be over, and then I saw it: this was only a beginning.
I was still stupid enough at this point to have some faith in it to be fun. Well, fun it was, when I finally got to the top for the first time while the sun slowly climbed onto the horizon, looking much more graceful in its ascent than me.
On the top, I was greeted by a sign and a pacifier in case I needed to cry already.
I’m not going to lie, even though my spirits were still high at this point, I was seriously reconsidering all my life choices that led me to this point. The pacifier might, in fact, come in handy later.
I was on my second descent when a friendly face appeared; Sylvie whom I met last year when she ran Marin Ultra Challenge was energetically pushing it up the hill. Those are her home hills, and it was clear that there was no way she wasn’t going to conquer them once again. I told her where I left banana pancakes I made for her and kept going.
By then, the fog in the valleys started to dissipate and more runners came to the trail, and we started to exchange small talks and calls of encouragement. I met Jesse and Jim and Duke himself, without realizing it was Duke. One thing I love about the trail running and ultra community is that they are the most funny, genuine and good-natured people I’ve ever met, and the people conquering Dogmeat that day were no different. Even though legs were starting to give up, the mind was kept in a good space thanks to all those smiling faces.
I was on my fourth ascent, when I noticed a crow sitting in a tree nearby the trail.
“Hey crow, how is it flying? Eyyy, I know great pun. Well, you’ve got a nice view up there, don’t you. You probably see us all going up and down like if we were crazy. Well, crow, I don’t know, we probably are. Why would we do this otherwise, right? Crow, it’s like this: you HAVE TO be crazy to do this, I think. I mean, look at me. I’m talking to a crow now. I guess it’s better than to talk to myself. Not that I haven’t done it today, crow…”
“Hi!” came a cheerful voice from behind me.
“Hi…” I answered, totally horrified that she heard me talking to the crow. She half-acknowledged that fact and we exchanged a few words about the bird. This is how I met Antonya, who’s been literally flying up and down the trail, doing the 50K.
I had one last time to go up and down. By then, Sylvie caught up to me, still looking like if she’s just begun. She offered me a shower at her place, and a lunch, which I was really grateful for, since otherwise I would have to jump in the Lexington reservoir to take a bath and make myself look somewhat acceptable for the event in the city. I didn’t have time to go home to take a shower.
I left the makeshift aid station for the last time, the sun high in the sky now, beating down on the exposed trail.
My progress was slower than slow. I was reduced to barely crawling my way up, literally on all four at times. When I was about halfway up, Jim caught up to me and tried to have a conversation, which I tried really hard to keep. He understood, and, luckily, led the convo whenever I couldn’t breathe to keep it going. He literally got me up the hill. I don’t know if I’d make it without him. One friendly hug later, he was firing it down the rocky trail while I was putting one last layer of chap stick on my thighs and then wishing I could just roll down the trail instead of trying to run it.
When I made it back to the saddle, he welcomed me, all smiles and good humour. We exchanged a few last words with the other runners who were still doing their laps while I collected my “aid station” and headed back down to the car. Those last 2 miles finished me off and when I finally sat down in the car to head over to Sylvie’s, my whole body screamed, “what the f… fluffy unicorns have you done to us?” while my mind was just nodding with a smug smile, trying to ignore my legs screaming in pain.
And they still had no idea that I’d force them into high heels in only two hours…