Archive for August, 2016

I started writing this the night after the race.  It’s 9 days later now.  Seriously, how many times can I sit down and waste a night staring at a paragraph while restarting the same Arcade Fire song over and over again and getting mindlessly lost in Win Butler’s existence, before I stick my digitally metaphorical pen down my throat and gag the words out of myself.  I should finish it. Okay.  Finished.

I found a pack of AAA batteries buried in the wreckage of my life last week.  I threw them in a backpack with the old Energizer headlamp that Dan Ostrander gave me before a group run a couple years ago.  My race prep had just gone to the next level.  I rode that wave of adulthood to the grocery store and bought some maple syrup.  I figured that since I hadn’t trained for the race, I would be fine by just doing things other than running.  In Hammondsport the night prior to the race, I portioned the syrup into small Ziploc bags and felt good about it.  I even laid my clothes out. Shorts.  Shirt. Bib. Where the fuck are my socks?  I set two pairs out.  They were clean and great.  One was red one was green and my day would be splendid because of them.  And they were back in Rochester.  Typical.  I raced up to the car and frantically searched for socks.  I found the remains of some brooks running socks from 2009 stuffed under some shit.   I was pretty excited about the holes in the heels.  What really made me smile though, was picking them up and observing that they had the consistency of a tortilla chip.  One of my favorite things.  Everything will be fine…

I rolled my ankle five times in the first 4 miles of the race.  The right ankle.  Needless to say, I was totally jazzed about how good my left ankle was holding up.

I got to the top of the first significant climb just before dawn.  There was a bench there.  It was fairly inviting.  Also there was a rather satisfactory overlook providing a view of an expanse so vast that I was perhaps looking into the future. Or the past.  The sun, though sitting behind a hill being lazy and ignoring the fact that I had a race to run and couldn’t see well, was bathing the landscape in a legitimately breathtaking deep purple hue.  I peed.  Probably also a deep purple hue – but darkness and cognitive dissonance are like peanut butter and jelly.

After descending out of that place for a while I got to the first aid station.  My surrogate mother Shana was there and made me feel okay.  Bertrand too.  I got some quick updates on the lead pack and charged forth.  At the end of the trail was a gate.  There was a girl providing instructions and I ignored them in order to ensure that I cleared the gate.  Confirmed.  Welden still has mad game.

There’s a road section here.  I remember getting lost on it once a couple months back and was excited to have people pointing and telling me what to do.  I ran really well and jumped back onto a trail after a couple miles.  One maybe.  Who knows.  I remember another longish descent and then I remember catching Scotie Jacobs.  We chatted and began was would be several hours of leap frogging or talking about things that hurt.  We descended from there to Naples Creek and both ran well through the first crew accessible aid station.  The climb into Hi Tor is the kind of thing that is typically hiked in a 64 mile race.  I was feeling pretty good about myself at the moment and ran casually up most of it.  I had been careful to watch for the reroute that I’d been made aware of on at least three occasions.  I decide that the race wasn’t long enough and there wasn’t enough vert, so ran right by it, all the way up to the top of the park.  Actually, I just ran right by the fucking thing because I’m me and it’s what I do.  After a brief chat with a park ranger, I ran the half mile or so back to the turn and corrected my journey.  We were still only 14 miles or so into the race, so I figured there was plenty of time to turn this into a hundred miler later in the day.

Out of Hi Tor I remember significant nausea starting.  I was ready for this, because when I went to take a shit while eating my oatmeal 6 hours prior, I felt a sweet stabbing pain in my solar plexus and realized that my GI issues got a serious head start on the rest of the field.  Every calorie I took in came back up into my mouth.  I swallowed it again.  I was my own mother bird, feeding regurgitated food to myself, and beginning to think that dropping out was a good idea.  I recall a rather steamy road section here.  It led to the meth lab aid station that I recalled being my favorite as a crew person last year.  Mort, Howland and Dan O awaited me here.  I remember sitting on a cooler, eating a piece of melon and walking behind the lab to vomit, so as to not disturb inbound runners.  I was in 10th or 11th place at the time I think.  There was never an aid station I’ve been to in which I had more a sense of “these guys have all been in the shit before.  These guys can all help me. These guys all want me to do well.”  It was a comforting and wonderful place and after dumping ice water on myself and going into shock briefly, I sauntered back to the course.  It was finally too hot to feel like surviving was a good idea.  I spent the next mile trying to invent a hydration vest that comes equipped with a 456 horsepower central air unit.    Shortly thereafter I found myself wondering if Freon was more functional as a gas or a liquid and how much of it I could consume without dying.

The suffering from there to the aid station around mile 34 was very real and enjoyable.  So much so that upon staggering to the table I looked for the vehicle that was gonna drive my ass back to the finish area before I looked to fill my bottle.  I slumped in a chair. I watched four or five runners come in and go out.  I accepted the fact that I had nothing left.  It was as though food was not clearing my system and ending up in my muscles or bloodstream, but rather just sitting on top of my intestines, anchoring me to the ground.  Danielle Snyder came blazing out of the woods at this point, all like, “what the fuck are you doing back here?”  I got lost.  I’m going back out now.  I’ll see you later. “Hopefully not,” she says.

A brief period later I once again got bored with what Scott Magee thought the course should look like and took the liberty of going down a reasonably long hill for quite some time before the whole ‘whats up ribbonless trees!’ thing set in.  Who really cares anymore?  I’m going to Bud Valley and dropping anyways.  40 miles on the day?  That’s a perfect tune up for Flagline in September and Oil Creek in October.

And then there was Bud Valley…

The Ascend Collective captured this very telling moment of me staggering into the aid station. man-gets-divorced-drives-in-a-hit-and-run-spree-kills-6-06

I remember seeing Jeff Green and Chris O’Brien before anything. I muttered, “these fuckers better be ahead of me, because I’m dropping,  and if they’ve dropped too, that’s three of us, and that’s a bad fucking day.”

There was a very comfortable chair there. And some very comfortable paramedics.  They had some things hooked up to me and much to my dismay, they said that my vitals were fine.  Shut up. Check them again.  Tell me I can’t go on.  Say it loud enough for everyone else to hear.  I explained that my kidneys had been hurting for quite some time (they actually did, really bad), perhaps since I took my first salt pill at mile whatever.  While lost, I’d run out of water numerous times.  Upon then arriving at aid stations my natural response was to drown myself.  At some point I stopped sweating.  After that I’d peed some sort of rusty looking fluid.  Let’s focus more on the language of DNF’ing instead though.

“I’m done.  It’s all good.  Live to fight another day.  Fuck this shit.  Running is dumb.  It’s hot out.  40 miles is a good day.  My rectum feels like someone lit a Gu fire in it.  I wanna go home.  Take me to the finish line to drink.  Beer.  25th place, eh?  So this is what that feels like, huh?  26th place?  Was that guy even real?  Oh, Feissner. Sup fam.  See you when you finish.”

Then there’s this dude, Jeffrey McBeth, and his wife Elnora.  I don’t know really what it is.  Something about these two has always made me feel like I should get the best out of myself.  Something about unwavering compassion and personalities that for whatever reason chip the cement away from my legs.  And then that fuck O’Brien comes in with his, “man, it would mean a lot to me if one of us rallied and finished this thing right now.”  Have at it, Hoss.  This shit is stupid.

And then I thought about SHVP endurance prodigy and teammate Laura Kline sitting 20 miles away, waiting to bring me in over the last 5.  I had someone tell Eagan to contact her and tell her not to bother.  I drank a pitcher of water with an entire vile of Nuun tablets and drank two cans of ginger beer while listening to a story about my dear friend and previous years winner Daven Oskvig rolling into the same aid station and dropping out before sitting for 40 minutes and dropping again…and then running.  And finishing 4th.

“This whole dropping thing is just not going as well as I’d hoped.” – me to myself

And then I stood up, either to ask for a ride back to the finish, or to ask Jeff Green for socks so I could walk toward the trail instead.

Jeff McBeth looked at me and spoke some kind words.  If I had to pinpoint a single moment in an ocean of thoughtless progressions that actually made me keep moving forward, I’d pinpoint these words that I can’t remember.

I asked a timing person how many people had been through and they told me that after sitting there for the entire afternoon 31 people had come through.  I decided to go find them.

So I ran.  I’ll drop at the next aid station.

Slowly but surely, here comes the trail, here comes the fun, here comes the people, here comes the race that I failed to start running when it started 9 and a half hours prior.

Positive Self Talk ensued:  Don’t stop running now, you fucking marshmallow.  Fuck you Wekdeb.  Fuck your goals.  Adjust accordingly.  You suck at almost everything else in this world.  Don’t let this become one of them.  Run to run, walk to walk, suffer with grace.  Top 20 by next aid.  Top 15 by the following.  Don’t look down.  This singlet is not flattering right now.  Watch out for Ron and Lesher.

I ran more comfortably over the next 20 miles than I had at any point prior.  And most importantly, out of the fear that stopping meant losing this new found rhythm, after 8 years of racing, I finally peed while running.  I didn’t even piss on myself.  It was pretty much the only elite execution that I managed all day.  Nobody can ever take that away from me…

When I got to the bridge that crosses the creek into the farm adjacent to the Urbana aid station, I was finally deceased.  It was here that I was overjoyed to finally catch up to Angie Darbyson and her crew/pacer Kevin Courtney, who had been my partners in a relay to Boston a month prior.  Angie and I were both feeling the effects of the day and Kevin’s calm demeanor was as helpful as it had been at the first few aid stations when I was fortunate enough to run into him.  I pointed to Mt Washington (the Urbana Mt Washington) and said, after that, we’re done.

These undertakings present me with a moment in which I must take my eviscerated soul and stuff it back into the open chasm where my previous understanding of myself once festered.  This usually comes when I have reached the point of deathlike exhaustion and stumble upon familiar faces.

As I approached the aid station I hit the inevitable emotional stew that is only possible with a certain degree of fatigue, dehydration, carb depletion, death/rebirth and a single day of rapid decay and atrophy.  Or evidently the effort to recall the moments that make a given day worth surviving through, as all I wish for as I write this is that these people know just what they mean to me.  This transcends the silly endeavors we subject our bodies to for whatever reason we find to engage in such behaviors.  These people are my friends and my family.  They’re the meaning of life as I know it.  Literally the meaning of my fucking life.  The reason I survive when I know 98% of the time that I’ve got better things to do than survive.  Better things to do than drop an Ani Difranco quote into a race report.

When I was about 100 yards out,  I saw some vibrant rainbow arm sleeves.  As I got closer I saw that they were attached to Laura Kline.  She had come to save me despite my plea that she not waste her afternoon because I was dropping.  I saw Eric Eagan and scored a hug.  I saw Jamie Hobbs and told him I was embarrassed about my day.  He said not to be.

Laura and I began our climb as I repeatedly apologized for how slowly I was moving.  She provided me with all of the conversation required to soften the “STOP MOVING YOU FUCKING IDIOT EVERYTHINGS BROKEN,” screams that my legs were going on and on with.  Oh, here comes Danielle and Jason.  Again.  This fucking leapfrog thing never got old and when she finally passed me for the last time I thought to myself that there isn’t another runner that I’d rather get smoked by.  With just under a mile to go, as I embarked on my final agonizing descent to the finish area, I remember Laura saying “got a runner coming up behind you.”  Naturally I stepped off the trail to let him pass.  Laura followed suit.  In perhaps the rudest and most thoughtless, impulsive move of my life, I stepped back onto the trail and started running.  I ran the fastest mile of my entire day.  Even when I looked back and only saw my pacer, I ran as hard as I could. Right into the fucking highway.  Right into the end.  Right into that small moment of electric, silent elation that ultimately ends up being why I do this stuff.  If the hair on my arms stands up and flutters through the exasperated, thunderous clamor of my dying heart, and the day was well spent.

I haven’t much to say really about any of this. Running for 15 hours fucking sucks.  And I’m going to do it until my body no longer permits me to do it, because that’s going to suck a whole lot more.  Despite that commitment to mindless suffering, I hope that it never takes me that long to run 100 kilometers again.  Ever. There are a couple of key things that I feel like self indulgently glazing over so as to hopefully highlight their importance for myself 20 years from now when I read this again.  If.

-The purple pine forest, standing uniformly like soldiers about to die on a Colonial battlefield, was the most beautiful that I’d ever seen it on this day

-Natalie Thompson.  As always.

-Laura Howard, Jen Lacey, Matt Bertrand, Shana Feissner – Talk about people making an event possible, if not survivable

-Volunteers.  Your day is harder than some of ours.  Thanks. You’re all very loved.

-Mike Mertsock. “See you at the finish.”

-Danielle Snyder and Angie Darbyson…amazing work.  Truly proud to have stumbled upon you guys in this lifetime

-The descent out of Mitchellsville is still the best few miles of trail within 100 miles of my doorstep

-If I ever work at an aid station again my goal is to be every bit of Mort, Tim and Dan that I can be.  I’ve said it several times and its not enough.  Truly spectacular personalities to encounter amidst moments of a self inflicted deathlike stagger

-Rob Feissner is a better person and ultramarathoner than anyone I know or you know

-Mom and Dad – Y’all are indescribably swell.  Thanks for existing.