Trail running with my twin brother
In case you don’t know my brother here’s a little background. First off, we’re mirror-image identical twins. And the first thing most people want to tell us is “But you can’t be identical, you’re not the same gender.” Or, maybe they’ll tell us “But you can’t be identical, you look so different”. (By which they really mean, “Why is he so much shorter and rounder than you?”). So let me explain. My brother is transgender and I am cisgendered. He also had childhood Leukemia before doctors really knew what they were doing with radiation and chemotherapy (but happily they knew enough to save his life) and those treatments changed how he grew. So here we are, an identical matching set that now looks more different on the outside than the inside.
How we got into running
When we were 24 years old my brother decided to run a marathon with Team in Training which raises money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. I joined him and together we flew to Honolulu for our first ever marathon. Since then we’ve run many more – some together but mostly on our own.
Last fall my brother texted me that he had just signed up for the Antelope Canyon half marathon in northern Arizona. I had so much fun running around Page, AZ last February during a family trip that I was eager to go back. Plus, I couldn’t let him go out there alone. I signed up for the 50 mile race.
A training buddy is invaluable when it comes to running through the winter. Even though we live three hours apart we regularly texted each other pictures of frosted eyebrows, complained about getting slushed by 18 wheelers and whined about getting up in the dark to run long weekend miles.
My brother had a knee replacement a year ago so every injury-free run was a huge success for him. As for me, my training went really well, just running is so easy (compared to training for an Ironman). Plus, I love running in the winter despite the slush, dark and cold. Something about the stark landscape, the openness of the winter sky and the lack of people feels so easy and spacious, like I can be fully me and not worry about what anyone thinks. I had some of my most pleasant long runs ever and was able to stay off the roads almost entirely because of the thin to non-existent snow cover.
My favorite training runs were going up the Cadillac Mountain Road looking for snowy owls. I made this video during one of those runs when I was trying to figure out how to use my GoPro camera. Some might say this video is a bit tedious and uneventful, but that’s exactly what I love about running and nature – mostly it is deeply soothing and non-eventful!
There were a few stumbles in our training – I had some nagging achilles pain where a thick lump appeared after this fall’s Vermont 50 but I visited a PT weekly to keep it in check. Thankfully the most painful days coincided with the weather and there was enough snow to skate ski instead of run.
A week before the race my brother fell hard on the ice and bruised his knee and shin so badly that by the time I met up with him it looked like it should be amputated! His knee remained stiff right up to the race but besides worsening his pre-race jitters it didn’t cause him any problems.
The Road Trip
We flew from Maine to AZ the Wednesday before the race and commenced our first twin-only-trip in over 15 years. If you don’t have an identical twin I am sorry. There’s something about hanging out with a different expression of yourself that is both supremely comfortable, like wearing your own skin, and hilarious, because if you can’t silly with yourself, who can you be silly with?
The first night we drove north to the Prescott National Forest and found a nice little patch of desert dirt to camp on. The coyotes woke us up shortly before a local rancher rumbled by in his diesel rig and the sunrise was spectacular. From there we drove north to Sedona to check on the vortex and get breakfast. The town itself was unremarkable but the canyon was gorgeous. We stopped in Flagstaff to stock up on groceries for the rest of our trip and then headed north to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.
There’s a reason our thru-hiking trail names are Turtle and Hair. My brother is slow and
methodical and visiting a new place requires a good deal of orienting and planning. I prefer to leap into things and figure it out experientially. Even so, we do ok, like that evening at the Grand Canyon when took off from our campsite on a 6 mile run along the rim trail while my brother drove around in loops looking for the parking lot where we were going to meet to watch the sunset. He made it there eventually as he always does and we caught the last few seconds of the sun sinking below the horizon.
Camping that night was freezing. Literally. In an effort to avoid checking luggage I had left my down coat in Maine so I spent most of the night doing sit ups in my sleeping bag to stay warm while my brother happily and loudly snored away next to me. I woke him up in time to join me for a brisk warmup walk down to Yaki Point to watch the sunrise, which was spectacular as expected. For breakfast we ate our fourth meal of sandwiches and headed north toward Page, AZ.
We derived to spring for a hotel room the night before the race, albeit a very cheap one. When we arrived I had to remove the left over food from the mini-fridge, the hair from the bathroom sink and the dried leaves from the towels. (This explains why I almost always prefer my tent to hotel rooms). My 50 mile race started at 6am so my brother graciously got up with me even though his half marathon didn’t start until 8am.
My run started in the dark, but soon we were running straight into the sunrise greeting
the new desert day. It was a lovely race, even with all the sand. I never quite know
what to tell non-trail ultra runners what it’s like to run 50 miles in a day. It’s a little like the days I birthed my two babies. A mix of knowing and not knowing, bliss and pain, boredom and expectation, skillful body and mind management, and of course, beauty, lots of beauty. I love the solitude, even when there are other runners nearby we’re all having our own experience, we’re all getting through in our own way. Mostly in trail races like this, at least where I am in the pack, no one is trying to beat anyone else so there is an easy camaraderie and the shared joy and gratitude for getting to do what we love.
I finished somewhere in the top third for women, but more importantly I met my goal of
finishing before sunset. There is great satisfaction being able to run 50 miles before dark! As has happened in these longer races, after 11 hours of drinking Tailwind and squeezing down the occasional Gu my stomach totally lost during the last hour and not even the bacon quesadillas the local cross country team kids were cooking up at the last aid station could tempt me!
The following day we headed south back toward Flagstaff. It’s a lovely drive because Arizona is a lovely state. I’ll leave you with this portrait of our drive together. There’s nothing better than taking a road trip with a good friend.
More pictures from our trip and the race – Ultra Adventures Antelope Canyon 50 miler in Page, AZ. And if you want to know what it was really like to run this race you should watch this guys very funny but horrifyingly accurate video of the day.