(Me, Joe, & Charlie at the start. Photo courtesy of Greg Taylor)
Where in hell can you go
Far from the things that you know,
Far from the sprawl of concrete that keeps crawling
Its way about 1,000 miles a day?
Take one last look behind,
Commit this to memory and mind.
Don’t miss this wasteland, this terrible place.
When you leave keep your heart off you sleeve.
- Natalie Merchant
The morning started out at a cool and crisp 28 degrees. I knew that I would warm-up quickly once I hit the woods, so I fought the urge to bundle myself up, not wanting to get too sweaty and then freeze. The marathoners and 50-milers all started out together and once we hit the woods, the marathoners split-off for their 1.2 mile jaunt and the ultrarunners hit the trails. I talked with friends and tried to hold myself back, since last year I made the mistake of going out way too fast. I had tossed my watch in my bag prior to the start, because, really, why wear it. It wouldn’t change the way I would run and on this day I was just going to do what my body said I could do. I felt like I was running pretty easily and not pushing too much and by the time I hit the second aid station I caught up with a guy who remembered me from last year, as he was the one who picked me up after I had done a major face-plant while trying to jump over a log. I assured him that I had not fallen so far. He was wearing a watch and when he told me what time we were at, I realized that I had fallen into the trap of the cool temps . . . I was probably running too fast. Oh well, I felt comfortable and let my body do what it could.
And then it happened. I toed something, not sure what, and I went down like a giant pile of bricks. Let me reiterate what I have said before about being big . . . you fall HARD. And typical to my falling style, my water bottle shot out of my hand, landing about 20 feet in front of me. I landed on my right knee and it brought a tear to my eye. I had no feeling from below my right knee. And here is what I really love about ultrarunners . . . the runners behind me immediately stopped, asked me if I was OK, helped me up and got my bottle for me. That in itself was a mental boost. I had to stand for a minute, because with no feeling in my lower leg, I wasn’t sure how to proceed. I took a step and the pain in my knee was excruciating. But what are you gonna do? No one was coming out to carry my dead ass in. So I started to walk. And eventually the feeling came back to my leg and the pain in the knee subsided. And then I could run. Cool. I was OK. Until . . . I just kind of tipped over. I was talking with the runner behind me, hit something again with my foot, and just fell over. OK, I was a bit scraped-up on the side of my right thigh, but nothing like the last fall, so I picked it up again and just kept on moving.
Eventually I finished loop one. Time on the clock . . . 2 hrs, 18 min . . . way too fast. I felt a potential blister starting up, so I sat down, filled my bottle, got some more Clif Shot Bloks, slapped some moleskin on the hotspot, and shuffled on out for loop 2 with the intent of easing off.
Oh momma I'm in fear for my life from the long arm of the law
Lawman has put an end to my running and I'm so far from my home
Oh momma I can hear you a'crying you're so scared and all alone
Hangman is comin' down from the gallows and I don't have very long
I started back out, passing friends who were coming in, and glad to see that everyone was looking strong. I saw Joe coming in and we shared laments of our intimacy with Mother Earth, and kept on moving. Shortly thereafter I realized that I was feeling a bit crappy. Wow . . . where did that come from? I ate some Shot Bloks and grabbed a full grilled cheese sandwich (ooohhhh . . . gooey warm cheese can do wonders for you), some Coke, and kept on moving.
The grilled cheese and Coke were the main things that got me through this loop. The pain in my right leg and knee from the earlier falls seemed to have subsided but I was still feeling rather ugly when I came into the start/finish area, noting the time on the clock to be 4 hrs, 48 min. Much better . . . 2:30 for that loop, although I had felt pretty crappy, was much more to my liking. The foot blister was rearing its ugly head again so I re-moleskinned and changed socks and shoes. Much better. Time to head out for loop 3 and hopes of getting my groove back on.
I walk a lonely road
The only road that I have ever known
Don’t know where it goes
But it’s home to me and I walk alone
- Green Day
The new socks and shoes were a wonder. Actually it was the same shoes, only different. I had put on my newer pair of Brooks Cascadias and it was obviously a wise choice. I also had my secret weapon. Prior to the race I had tried to get more Clif Roks, but to my disappointment the Finger Lakes Running Company, the only place I have found that sells them, was out. So I had one package left and had reserved them for when I really needed. And I needed them now. And what a wonder they did for me. I was back in the game. Woo hoo!
I was a bit lonely in that when I had passed through the start/finish area, none of my cronies were around . . . they were all out on the course . . . somewhere. So when I reached the aid station I was really glad just to talk to anyone. And those great volunteers talked to me, filled my bottle, made me hot grilled cheese, and filled me with Coke. I chugged the Coke and started walking with the sandwich, eating, and feeling quite good. And then I got to thinking about Diane, as it seems I do quite a bit during the ultras, and I started crying. Try eating hot grilled cheese, walking, crying, and trying to breathe. It’s not as easy as it sounds. So with that and glad that I had no one else around to witness this slobbering mess I was making of myself, I yelled “cowgirl up”! This brought a smile to my face and things started to look better. I started out with my Diane’s Team shirt on and was still wearing it and I was feeling stronger just through its symbolism. And I started to run again. And I had no idea what time it was and it didn’t matter. I was having fun and feelin’ groovy.
More grilled cheese and Coke, Nuun tabs and Clif Roks, and I rolled into the start/finish area ready to knock-off the final loop. As I rolled in I saw Joe and Karen; both had finished the marathon and were looking great in those hot green fleece finisher jackets. Having seen the jackets when I finished my last loop, I have to admit that I really had thought about switching to the marathon just to get one. But I had come to run 50 miles and that’s what I was going to do.
Time: 7 hrs, 30 min. OK, doing math at this point was a bit sticky . . . I managed to calculate something like 2:42 for that loop. Pretty decent, I surmised, since I had taken quite a long time for the foot repair before actually tackling the loop.
I’m not prepared, I’m running scared
I need the strength to carry on
I need to feel that I am strong
I need to feel that I won’t fall
I’ll never crawl, no I won’t fall
- Dolores O’Riordan
It was a quick pit-stop through the start finish this time, as I wanted to get going in hopes that I would finish before dark. Joe came over to me and said “guess what I saw?!” And then he tells me that he saw a bear cub. Great! Just what I needed, I told him. But he assured me “No, it’s OK, it was cute and sleeping”. OK, so where there is a baby bear there is most likely a pissed-off mother bear, angry because of all of us intruders in her home. So Joe hurried me off back to the woods so I could finish before dark. I know he meant well, but I would have rather hear “you look good” or at the very least, tell me where the hell he saw the bear so I could make sure that I had some other runners around me at that point! So basically, I was running scared. I passed at least four runners before the next aid station and all I could think was that OK, at least there are people behind me who can find my mutilated body on the trail if the bear attacks.
And then I realized . . . I think the fear made me run better. I was feeling smooth, I wasn’t stumbling on rocks or roots, and I didn’t fall the entire last loop. I really felt like I was flying! Surely I would be under 2:30 for this loop. Still not really knowing the time I thought that maybe I could break 10 hours. It wasn’t necessarily a goal, but it would be cool if I did.
So I came running as fast as I could manage across the field toward the finish line, smiling and feeling great. Unfortunately, the speed of the clock was faster than my feet and I finished in 10 hours, 10 minutes, 14 seconds. Still better than last year’s time.
I hung out with friends, ate good hot food served by some of the nicest volunteers, and drank good beer. Ipswich Harvest Ale was on tap and tasted really good after a long day running. But the real kicker . . . Joe’s bear turned out to be . . .
(photo courtesy of Karen Fennie)
Rollin', rollin', rollin'
Though the streams are swollen
Keep them dogies rollin'
- Frankie Laine