“Everything Is Beautiful and Nothing Hurts…Everything Hurts and I’m Dying”

Posted: November 26, 2015 in Uncategorized

Figured I should do one more of these for the year.  Bringing the grand total to 2.  TWO.  Too. To.

I ran a race the other day with over a thousand other people.  They were all like, “yo, ask not what your country can do for you, but let’s run fifty miles too.”  And there was the JFK 50.  53 years of people lining up at this intersection in this beautiful Maryland town, charging up a two mile hill, dodging right, off onto the Appalachian Trail and ultimately getting after the proverbial ‘it.’

I started writing a detailed account of this whole thing and then deleted it because fuck it.  There are details, and then there are details.  What I’m most concerned with are the details.  Between the lines.

So we drove down Friday.  Me, my mentor Daven Oskvig, his folks and my training partner, best friend, crew extraordinaire Natalie Thompson.  We went to a hotel.  Checked in.  Left.  Returned.  Left.  Ate.  Talked.  Met Sean Meissner by some random chance in line at a restaurant, and went to sleep.  Sean Meissner is significant because he contacted me and Daven to be on his team with Mike Wardian several days prior.  So like any good subcultural athlete, I stalked him on ultrasignup and determined him to be legit as fuck.  He explained his ongoing efforts to break 6:30 at this race on his 4th attempt, and I explained my joy that I would not be counted on to score points for our team, as only the top three runners score.  We parted ways.  Nat and I ate noodles and tofu, broke life down to its simplest meaning, digested it, returned to the hotel, stretched, talked to the rest of the fam for a bit and crashed at 10 or so.

Alarms at 5.  This is the biggest reason not to do this shit.

Breakfast down the hatch by 5:02.  Toilet by 5:06.  and again at 5:18.  And more miffed attempts at like 5:36.  In a hotel you are afforded the opportunity to retreat to the lobby 2 floors away and reenact the Tet Offensive at full volume while pounding caffeine on the toilet and occasionally dealing with hotel staff peering through the gap between the frame and the stall door to see if you are actually a real human being.

We left at 6.

We got to the starting area at 6:30.  A beautiful small town center, glowing with the volcanic anticipation of a bunch of cold people in short shorts, goose bumped, shivering and wishing they’d gotten to the nearby portapotty before I did.  Some day I’ll probably rename this entry as “The Fruitless Adventures of a Cold Man Trying to Shit With 1300 People Standing Around Wanting Also to Shit.”  But for today the Vonnegut quote will suffice.

At the line I look at peoples quads, hamstrings and hydration choices while judging the shit out of them and deciding who to stay behind and who to stay ahead of.  Then someone sings the star spangled banner.  I continue checking out dudes legs and ponder the eternal question of whether or not such thing as an adequate pre-race shit actually exists, in the most patriotic manner possible.  Then we run.

The hill that the race starts on would’ve been challenging and worrisome. Fortunately, people like Jamie Hobbs and the aforementioned Natalie Thompson exist, and through my tireless efforts to be their equal, I have developed some degree of skill at climbing these things and not dying.  A couple of miles later, after a sharp right hand turn, we’re on the trail.   I immediately confirm my suspicion that Hokas were not an adequate footwear choice for the first third of the race.  The jagged rocks and utterly insane footing were pretty much just like, “lol fuck you buddy.”  Face plant.  Hydroplaned cold flesh on abrasive rock, get up, assess damage, repeat.  Fall again, break nozzle on water bottle.  Groan.  Fall again, shatter entire cap and lose every available calorie into the brush and leaves.  Fall again, bleed.  No time to bleed.  Fall again.  Knee stops functioning.  Consider dropping.  Can’t drop.  Stuck on the mountain.  Fall again, squeezing remaining hydration out into the dirt.  Stand up.  Laugh.  I’m four miles into a  50 mile race with no liquid and no calories to consume.  I won’t see crew for another 12 miles.  Everything’s okay, Michael.

Lesson 1, for the tenth time this year: when everything goes to shit in the beginning, the end becomes a wonderful abstract painting comprised of completely random and ludicrous brushstrokes.   Like Chuck Palahniuk says, “It’s only after we’ve lost everything, we’re free to do anything.”

It’s all just a joke by the time I get to a water stop.  Filling the remaining ten ounce bottle I have with cola and charging back up into the woods to further pick perennial 6:30ish finisher Sean Meissner’s brain about the rest of the course and develop a reasonable strategy considering my current plight.  I’m probably about 12 miles in now and completely behind on hydration and calories.  Grossly, actually.  The cola is causing severe cramping now, because go fucking figure, I haven’t trained to run 8 minute pace, archipelago hopping on jagged rocks in moon shoes with fucking cola in my system.  5 miles of this left and I can drop into the safe and loving arms of my crew.  I fall a few more times and people continue to wonder if I’ve ever actually run trails before.  I tell them, bro its the shoes.  And carry on.

The switchbacks comprising the descent to Harper’s Ferry are probably the craziest shit I’ve ever seen in a race.  Without 33 miles following them, they would probably be the most enjoyable running ever.  Today, at race pace, with heavy traffic, they were fucking insane.   At the bottom I could see crowds of cheering people and for a minute I felt like I was at a European race.   I wondered if I would be able to find my crew, panicked briefly, and was relieved when she found me and began running down the chute of spectators with me.  We stopped at Roger and Melissa and I gave them my broken bottle and asked if they could perhaps find me a new one.  I dumped my cola out and refilled on Tailwind, and began to run.  Natalie asked how I was feeling.  I told her that”Everything is beautiful and nothing hurts.”  Roger tells me there is an aid station several hundred yards ahead.  I roll into the aid station and grab some potato chips.  A volunteer asks how I’m doing.  I tell them, “Everything hurts and I’m dying.”

Someone says something about my hair and I disregard it and start running.

26.4 miles of slowly climbing river trail await.  A full marathon to open up and make up some time.  Problem is that the nimbly bimbly shit on the AT has left my smaller stabilizing muscles feeling tapioca-ish and I can’t lift my fucking legs because my hip flexors have long since determined that running is dumb.  Gonna be a long afternoon, Welden.  Get your shit together.

I managed a 3:20 something marathon over this segment of the race.  I picked off a few people here and there, worked my way into the top 20, and held on for dear life.    Really, this is the part of the race that I found the most challenging.  It was like the middle section of the former Rochester Marathon course on bath salts and the Potomac flowing toward me quickly began to feel resistant and awkward.  The scenic beauty possessed on the hillsides across the river was an occasional distraction and the supportive spectators and volunteers were really what made this section most runnable.

As the race wore on the lack of salt pills of any variety at the aid stations became a problem.  I could tell that my electrolyte deficiencies were taking a toll on my performance and I was beginning to develop a severe headache, along with ongoing muscle cramps throughout my entire body and increasing difficulty focusing at faster paces.  But this is a 50 miler.  There isn’t any time for fucking around with 9 minute miles.  8 minute pace or bust.  This became more and more challenging as the only available calories between the 3 crewed checkpoints on the course and my 10 ounce tailwind refills, were GU brand energy gels.  The kind of thing that induces gagging and vomiting just based on its packaging alone.  I managed to choke down 3 of these over the marathon section of river path and gagged each time.  Hard.  A couple of potato chips at one aid station and a cup of ginger ale at another and that 400 or so calories carried me to about mile 42.  Pretty serious deficit at this point.  My salt woes had pretty much deep sixed my life and I met with my crew for the last time at mile 38.  I explained my issues and Natalie was all like, “yo, you need salt. I got this,” and proceeded to dump several metric fuck tonnes of salt into an empty zico coconut bottle, top it off with a couple sips of water and hand it to me.  Sure.  I didn’t vomit.  It was a great success.  A meaningful gesture of loving friendship at just the right time.  One last gel down the hatch and into the lonely horizon I am pushed.  There is however, a light at the end of this headwind laden tunnel of monotony and sunken goals.  After 26.4 miles of “what the fucking” every turn that just revealed more of the same, I was finally informed that I would be leaving the river.  A course marshal instructed me to turn right onto an adjacent road and run up the hill.  It was the single greatest hill ever.  Steep.  Winding.  Sustained.  Runnable, but slow.  And finally, not fucking river trail.

Beyond this point the race was incredibly fun.  Aside from the ‘bone on pavement’ feeling that I began to feel right about 5:30 into the run, the scenery was beautiful  and the weather was utterly perfect for running.  I was still managing a pace between 7:30 and 8:30 and knew that I would break 7 hours unless I broke a bone first.  Not even a stress fracture though.  Compound. Tibia through flesh.

With five or six miles to go, the girl that had ensured my survival all day long came running toward me and said that she was going to run for a while.  Or until I finished.  Whichever came first.  We careened through the countryside and I complained about things that didn’t quite exist.  Gale force walls of hate that in reality were just a breeze that couldn’t lift a kite off the ground.  Mountainous climbs that more closely resembled small downhills.  At one point, my good Samaritan crew person decided to reset a course marking that had been hit by a car and launched across the highway.  I absentmindedly followed her into the highway before being told “no, stay on the shoulder…like everyone else.”  I was passed by three far more experienced runners at this point.  I’ll credit them instead of criticizing myself, as I was happy to have suffered through 8:30 miles for the last 5k of the race.  These people remind me more than any others, of the work that I still have to do.

And then the finish.  And then the deafening silence and confused gaze.  And the loving, congratulatory smile of the person that helped me prepare, train, race and survive.  And a medal that will hang in a pile of other medals.  And a chair.

Always a chair.

 

 

 

 

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