(Photo courtesy of The Santa Fe New Mexican, on a run 8 days after the event with my dog and Dan Schwartz, reporter for the paper. Dan is not pictured.)
June 18 I woke up at a painfully early hour, downed 2 cups of coffee and a bagel, egg, and cheese, and was out the door with my husband at 0600. We had signed up to do the Valle Caldera trail marathon. This marathon was originally scheduled for April but moved back because of a big snow storm which made the area impassable for emergency vehicles. The Park service was concerned about the safety of the runners so the event was postponed.
My biggest concern about the change of day was the heat. It was very hot for a marathon that day – around 85 degrees. The marathon course was changed to a 2-loop run following the 1/2 marathon course twice. I toed the line at 0730 with my husband and we took off. Mike is fast so he was out of sight almost immediately and I was running with my people… the ones that get there eventually. The first loop was hard – it had already heated up significantly and I was getting a little grouchy at 11 – 13 miles because people along the course were cheering “you’re almost done”. No, I still had another lap to go. I had to walk for awhile when I started the second lap. I was dehydrated. I stopped at the mile 14 aide station and hung out for about 10 minutes – rehydrating and cooling off. I was passed by one runner there. I was told at that time that there were still 9 – 10 people behind me that hadn’t dropped because of the heat. After the rest I perked up a little bit.
At every aide station I took in fluids, especially iced ginger ale, and rested a couple of minutes. After the big up (for the second time) from mile 18 to 20 there is a long sweeping downhill with good footing. I enjoyed that and started feeling okay. I was caught on the flat by another runner just before the last aide station I made it to. When I arrived at the station he was just leaving. I spent about 5 minutes there drinking ginger ale and chatting with the wonderful volunteers. I stepped off trail and followed the flags and dodged the prairie dog holes for about 1/2 mile then gratefully stepped onto an actual trail again. It meandered next to a creek and had a few boggy crossings that offered up cool water to my sore feet. I started to calculate what my time would actually be at the end of the marathon. I had been shooting for 6.5 hours but it was looking more like 6:45….
“What’s that?” I thought as I looked to my right. “Dog?…Shit! Bear! Pretty Bear….crap, it’s charging me…I need to do something here….books say make yourself big and sound authoritative.” I raised my hands and yelled “NO!” then saw a cub over her shoulder. “Well that’s not going to work.”
Then I am on my ass and am being attacked by a bear. Microscopic momentary panic then I get it together and start thinking. Bite, BITE, BBIITTEE!!. I scream. It is feral and I don’t even realize it is me but then know it must be because it is not the bear and she is angered to a frenzy by the scream. She whacks me in the right side of the head with her left paw and I thought my eye had popped out. I reach up to push it back in and realize it is just my sunglasses. I roll to my right and she bites my left neck. I see the teeth and eyes and snout and think…”I should try for her eyes” but then don’t want to for a bunch of reasons. I don’t want my hands injured, she has a really long snout and I don’t think I can reach her eyes, I think she doesn’t want me to fight. She tries to shake me but can’t get a good grip. I realize later that it was because of my camelbak. She was only able to get one tooth into my neck, about 2 cm from my carotid. I roll onto my belly with my hands and arms scrunched under my torso and covering my face. I can’t remember really how I had my legs but I think my knees were scrunched up some. I shut up and hold completely still except for some hyperventilating. She bats my back with a paw and hits the camelbak. I don’t move. She is huffing…Huff, Huff, Huff. The only time she didn’t huff was when I screamed. After I shut up she continued the huff. She walked away huffing and went to the base of a dead tree several feet away. There was the damn cub, at the top of the tree. I stopped my Garmin so I would know how long I was down after the attack. “No,” I think, “If I stop the garmin then it is stopped. I won’t know time elapsed that I am down. That’s important in a trauma. The Golden Hour.” WTF. Once a nurse, always a nurse…? So I start the Garmin again and she glances over from the tree. The damn cub is break dancing at the top of the tree trying to figure out how to get down. Upside down. Sideways. Right-side up. I have this irrational urge to get up and help the frigging cub get out of the tree. But I play dead and listen to the huffing of the Mama and the tree-scratching of the cub until the sound is gone. During this I am evaluating my injuries. I think if there is anything fatal it is the neck bite but I am sure as hell not going to check it out until she is gone. I don’t need her to beat me up any more.
The sound is finally gone. No more huffing. No more scratching. I estimate another 10 minutes then tentatively start yelling for help. In a deep voice or as deep as I can muster anyway. I don’t want to sound like the injured animal I am. Finally I hear a real sound. Big and purposeful. It is the next runner on the trail, Kenneth O’Connor. He yells “I hear you!”
To be continued….
(Honestly, I have been working on this so long if I don’t publish what I have it will be next year before I am ready – if that makes sense to anyone.)