Mind Over Bladder – Mendon 50k Race Report

Posted: November 14, 2013 in Racing Stories, Uncategorized

213I wrote this over the course of the day.  It’s absolute garbage.  It’s the writing equivalent of the first run after a year off due to a compound fracture of your spine/cranium/tibia and heart.  I refuse to read it, and wrote it only for the purpose of documenting what I believe to be the strongest performance I’ve ever found within myself on the trails, regardless of what the time would indicate.

A couple of weeks later now.  I need a song.  Something to listen to so that I can dislodge the muck from my brain and put words down somewhere for the first time in so many months.  I dig into the library and go with Paul Kelly’s ‘Peace’ (reprise).  I’ll write now with this on repeat, because when I’m on the trails frolicking, fumbling, dancing and falling through the silent depths of my own personal fires, this is the song that always plays.  It rolls gently over my ear drums, through my brain, through my lungs and into my heart.  Where it pulsates and mutters subtle hints of the reality of what it is we do when we take on these monolithic tasks.

There is an often silenced but very deep philosophical side to my running.  It happens within me,  at the starting line, where I ignore reality so that I can make small talk with those that have come to fight with me against our sedentary inclinations.  I think a series of thoughts that make no sense.  They say to me that, “you aren’t merely a person.  You are an animal.  As your parents child, you age and you wither and succumb to time.  As a child of the entire universe, you are both powerless and powerful beyond all reason.  You are but a fragment of a grain of time lodged in history, but you are your own eternal moment of life.  You can achieve things that you never imagine possible, once you release yourself from the shackles of merely being what you think you are. You are a living being with a symbiotic connection to every thing around you.  The energy and the life and the colors and the cells of the world around you.  You belong to these things just as they belong to you.  You move forward with these things.  Even when you’re stepping backwards, you move forward.”

The reality was, on this day, that we were staring down the barrel of 31.1 miles of ups, downs, rocks, roots, slips, falls and near death experiences.  I put my foot on that line because I demand to know exactly what it is that my mind and body are capable of when I’m buried under the weight of my own self induced Hell.  You take your spot on this line for whatever personal reasons you have for pushing through the hours, closer to both life and death with each labored breath.  Dancing through the aura of silent, contemplative meditation, we find ourselves in front of or behind one another, tied together through the burden of our adventures.  And then we’re done.  And we reflect.

I came dressed for a Hoth blizzard.  It wasn’t cold out.  I arrived without water or a water bottle.  I arrived carrying a dead mp3 player.  I arrived without ambition or hope.  Maybe I subconsciously neglected the typical preparation to prove to myself that I didn’t need any of those things to finish the things that I start.  I wanted perhaps to know that I’d grown enough through the past year of suffering and silently waiting to put my feet back under me, to accept these things for what they are.  I’m not a runner.  I’m a person that moves from point A to point B by foot and wants to do it faster than everybody else.  At this particular starting line, I was so unprepared to compete that I simply let go.  I started the race chasing the lead pack, comprised of several semi-local workhorses that I’ll need an uninterrupted year of hill training to stick to for more than a mile.

Races always start like this for me.  I find the rhythmic connection between my heart, lungs and legs somewhere buried within the energy of the lead pack and then I relax accordingly.  I backed off of the leaders and let several people pass me that I knew I would be able to pick off later if I decided at some point that I was unable to fully detach myself from my competitive nature.  I could feel the sweat starting to soak through my layers and for the first time became fully aware of how much trouble I would be in if I didn’t find a way out of my cocoon.  The first loop went by in about 50 minutes.  I was completely comfortable with this time and felt okay with my current situation within the chain of runners.  What was not going to work was the clothing.  I promptly rolled in to the trailsroc tent and stood looking contemplatively for nothing.  I did this a lot during this race.  It was the first time and the last time hopefully and most likely a result of going into the race in a severely dehydrated state.  I was confused almost all day at aid stations.  Apprehension is normal for me, but during this race I continually convinced myself that there was something missing and that I would find it if I just stood and stared blankly for an awkward period of time.  I snapped back to earth and promptly ditched the all upper body layers except for my tshirt.  I ran up along the road to the aid station provided by the race and spent another minute or so staring around contemplatively before downing a cup of HEED followed by a cup of water.  I would stick to this fluid plan for the entire race and it worked beautifully.  I’d say that I learned more from not having my own hydration that day than I had in all of my previous ultra endeavors combined.  After checking out of the aid station I set back out onto the road and felt the muscles in my legs begin to cook under the insulation of my tights.  I panicked briefly and reminded myself that I was still running and not trying to beat anyone, but rather finish in time to get to work at 2 pm.  “Oh, a bush,” I thought as I veered off the road and into the wooded trails of the course.  I staggered to the bush and looked around to make sure that nobody was coming, as there was decidedly no practical place to find complete seclusion for disrobing.  I slipped my shorts off over my shoes and thought to myself, ‘piece of cake. now just get these tights off.’  It seems only natural that my tights would get stuck on my shoes and send me stumbling naked to the ground.  After a quick face palm I looked up and saw a runner approaching.  I quickly kicked my shoes off, untangled the mess and peeled them away from my shoes before putting a shoe back on and realizing that I would need to put my shorts back on in order to finish the race, and avoid a lifetime on the registry.

Once dressed, I return to the trail and chase down the runner that passed me in all of my glory.  I asked how much he saw and he said that he saw nothing.  Skeptical, I pried briefly and explained that I had been naked just five feet off the trail before diffusing the situation by asking what his goal time was.  Runners are easy like that.  If anything awkward ever arises in social interaction, you simply ask them about a PR or a goal or their taper strategy.  The man I was deadlocked with at the moment explained that he hadn’t run long in a while.  That his last long run was the Rochester Marathon about 7 weeks ago and that he ran a 3:01 while sustaining hypothermia and hallucinating a great chunk of the finish.  I explained that my last run over 20 miles was 11 months ago and that he would surely lap me before the end of the day.

How is it possible to DNF the same race report 35 times, yet never drop out of an actual race?  Perhaps traipsing through this writing stuff is just that much more difficult that bombing a hill in the forest.

I carried my tights Heisman Trophy style for the next six miles.  My temporary companion stopped to walk a hill and I explained that I don’t do that stuff, and that I’d see him in a minute when he blew by me on the straight.  For the rest of the day I only saw him when I turned around.  I felt him breathing down my neck from a hundred yards away.  I ran.

At the end of my 2nd lap, which went about 3 minutes faster than my first lap, I dropped my tights off with the trailsroc folks and stood again, staring hesitantly and confused at a table full of stuff that my brain couldn’t make sense of.  I remember people asking me if I needed something each time this happened and I remember not having an answer.  Back up the gravel path to the aid station at the start line.  Another several minutes staring blankly.  Heed. Water. Gel. Run.

The third time I veered off the road into the woods I decided that it was time to race.  It occurred to me that I hadn’t been passed by Jamie Hobbs yet, thus must be doing far better than I thought I would, as Jamie is a stronger trail runner than I am.  On top of the realization that I’d not been passed yet, I realized that I wasn’t feeling any pain.  That’s not to say I wasn’t experiencing any pain.  I simply wasn’t feeling it.  The pains I was experiencing were probably frightening enough to where they were better if ignored.  There were two of them:

My kidneys were hurting fiercely since I woke up that morning.  I’d been drinking considerable amounts of beer for the past week or so and capped off the prior evening with a bedtime IPA.  With each stride I could feel what looked like the words ‘organ failure’ in bright neon letters.  Lights can be turned off though.

My bladder was sending pulsating, searing pain through my pelvis and groin.  It was the most excruciating pain I have ever felt running and there was no off switch.  Just don’t feel it.  It’s there, but you don’t need it.  Pain is just baggage.  Like carrying an extra water bottle full of concrete.

I stopped at the midway aid station and lollygagged for a brief moment, chatting with the workers, thanking them for volunteering, staring at things.  Jamie came blazing by me at this point.  He looked happy and strong and promptly knocked the wind out of my competitive sails.  I stood for another moment, contemplating how to proceed, and promptly turned and began running as fast as I knew how.  I caught him on a hill, exchanged pleasantries and ran harder, believing that I would be passed by him shortly after and pay for my over-extension of my actual abilities.  It didn’t happen though, and my fourth lap was complete.  And then my fifth.  And then my Last.  And…

As always, there is a cop-out built into writing race reports for looped races.  My race report for the Mind the Ducks 12 hour never happened, because 140 laps around a .5 mile loop is about a paragraphs worth of storytelling.  So I’ll apply that logic to the fact that I can’t currently loosen the sludge from my brain or my fingers and say a few brief last thoughts about this race.

10k trail loops are not for me.  There is no zoning out on such a course, thus the mental side of the race becomes something that I’m far less into than 2 50k trail loops or 12 hours of paved meditation.

The hills on this course were deceptively brutal and by the fourth loop I had resigned myself to patiently walking them except in cases where I needed to pass someone and make a statement.

My bladder and kidneys appear to be fine now.

Everything I did during this race was solely for the reason that I missed my girlfriend so much that I didn’t give a shit what was happening around me.  I don’t talk about these things because I’m not sure where such emotions fit into the world of competitive activity, but I share an absolutely wonderful love with a person that lives 4000 miles away and for just a day I found it possible to take the resulting emotions and dissolve them in a sea of lactic acid and self injurious behavior.  I finished in 4:39 or something. I don’t recall.  9th place maybe.  Cheers.




  1. Megan says:

    Nice run Mike! I always enjoy reading anything you decide to put in this here blog.

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