Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Body Forgives What The Mind Forgets

If you looked at my bruised and battered body right now, likely the first question would be “why?”. Why indeed. Kids play hard and look like this, but shouldn't adults know better? I haven't looked this beat-up since my days of mountain biking. Oh, that's right . . . I was of adult age then, too. And now I'm . . . 40 . . . and it's great to be a kid! And I just keep coming back for more. Right now I hurt and am tired. Thank goodness the body forgives what the mind all too quickly forgets.

Why do some people run long distances? It certainly can't be because it feels good - because those of us who have done it know that it hurts like hell - physically and mentally. Could it be for that ecstatic feeling that you get when you cross the finish line? Hard to say - you don't want to even think about the finish line because making it there is never a guarantee. But then, what is the “finish line”? The finish actually comes when you have gone as far as you can; when you have laid it all out there and have nothing left. It’s when you have gone beyond the point of where it is pointless to keep going, gone beyond what is reasonable and sometimes beyond what is safe. It’s the point where you find out what you are truly made of; where your passion keeps you going for that last little bit. That’s what attempting to run 100 miles is about for me. It’s the challenge. It's about constantly looking for the finish - and never knowing where that may be.

I have now attempted four 100 milers. The first one I went as far as I could and didn't reach the official finish. I reached my finish for that day, but completing the event was still unfinished business and so I had to go back for more. In my next attempt I crossed the official race finish line. Business finished, right? Nope. I craved more. 100 #3 - too sick to keep going after 83 miles of nausea. This sucked - I wouldn't do it again, right? Wrong. Time to go for broke; time to go to a new location and try again. Go for the hills. Go for the rocks. Go where there are lots of nasty, gnarly, disgusting creatures and sheer drops that would scare the hell out of me. Yes, that's what I wanted. And that's what I got. Enter Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 Miler . . . one of the hardest, nastiest, unforgiving 100 milers on the east coast.

A lot of money, training, time, and devotion from your friends is required to prepare for and get through the actual event and it’s a lot of pressure to perform. But that's the great thing about running ultras and the friends who support your addiction - they are there for you, no matter what. When you are disappointed in what you haven't done, they point out what you have done. They support you, feed you, clean your dirty feet and wounds, change your nasty stinky socks, and they lie to you. That's what friends are for. And, once again, I had a great lying, loving crew of Joe, Karen Fennie, and Jill Fickbohm (the "virgin" in a group of ultrarunners, who now knows what 100-milers are really about) who ignored my tears, bitching, and pleas to stop and kept me going. Even when the possibility of reaching the official finish line within the time limit was no longer even viable, they wouldn't even think about letting me leave any unfinished business out there in the mountains.

So rather than bore you with the step-by-step run (and the term "run" is totally relative when you refer to the MMT course), let me just give a run-down of the highlights and remembrances.

Maybe these images will intrigue you into trying one of these events yourself!

  • Packing the car and the rear-hitch carrier the morning of our departure for Virginia. And then Joe coming into the house and saying "I hate to even ask . . . do you think we will need The Clam?" (The Clam is the roof-top carrier. Those of you who have traveled with me to ultras know what a "light packer" I am - NOT!).
  • Filling The Clam, the car, and the rear carrier and the four of us packed into the vehicle and not being able to see out of the back window! Somehow I think we resembled Sanford & Son as we rolled down the highway!
  • Joe trying to sever my right arm as I tried to pack just one more bag into the already overstuffed back of the car and him closing the door on me. My first of many bruises.
  • Foregoing the hotel room and opting for a tent to sleep in - OK, so I think this is really what put my packing limit over the top! Sleeping out in nature with only the sounds of a light intermittent rain, bugs hitting the sides of the tent, and the coyotes howling in the distance was actually quite relaxing.
  • Waking up race morning feeling eerily rested and ready to hit the trails.
  • Hitting the first trail and actually being able to run . . . but not for long . . . the climb up Short Mountain brought the entire group to a sweat-drenching hike, where us runners were pretty much bent over with chests touching knees as we climbed higher and higher.
  • Catching glimpses between rocks and branches (and repeated ear-popping) just how high above the rest of the world we were.
  • Never actually being able to take in the views and run at the same time. If I was running, my head was down with eyes on the trail. If I wanted to take in the views it required coming to a complete hault. Running and sightseeing at the same time almost assuredly meant kissing the ground - which I did - HARD - several times.
  • Running along a sunny trail, feeling good to actually be running, and having to hit the breaks fast to avoid stepping onto the four-foot black snake that was stretched across the trail. The runner behind me assured me that the snake wouldn't hurt me, but just to be sure I made him go over it first.
  • Having to go for 9-10 miles between aid stations and many hours without seeing my crew.
  • Reaching an aid station in the dark and not being able to have my pacer with me for another 9.5 miles. I have always had someone with me when I run in the dark. This was my very first experience running alone in the dark . . . and doing it on a high ridge and over rocky trails. I am scared of the dark. Dead leaves curled up and hanging from tree limbs really resembled bats hanging and many times I had to stop and really assess the situation before going by.
  • The incessant chirping of the whipporwills, howling coyotes, and moving glow eyes in the dark kept me very much alert to my surroundings.
  • Reaching the 68 mile aid station, still in the dark, resigned to stopping since I knew there was no way I would reach the finish line in 36 hours now. I had already been going for almost 24 hours.
  • Choking down french toast while my crew and a very persistant woman working the aid station tried to tell me how bad I would feel for "DNF-ing". The finish would be when I was not allowed to go on anymore, not stopping just because I hurt. They tried to convince me that I would feel better when the sun came up. Having not the mental fortitude to argue, I got my fanny out of the chair and started the death march.
  • Leaving that aid station crying but moving. Adding on some extra feet here and there as wrong turns were made, but still being able to keep going.
  • Seeing that second sunrise and still feeling very much awake and alert and able to make the ridiculous climbs up the ridges and over rocks but crying and yelling obscenities with the pain that came from each foot coming down on yet another rock.
  • Being at the top of the world and taking in the views through tears.
  • Having a wonderful pacer in Karen who, despite my swearing and crying, kept telling me how good I was doing and how proud she was of me. How can you let someone down when they can keep giving you these good vibes during what you think are your worst moments?
  • Finally making it through what I thought was only supposed to be a 4-mile section which actually was a 9-mile section and seeing Joe and Jill waiting for us. And then having to hit the pavement to get back to the aid station. And I thought rocks were hard on the feet!
  • With about 1 mile to go to get to the aid station and after 28 1/2 hours of being on my feet, knowing that I was not going to be allowed to go any more, I reached my finish. And sat on a guardrail and waited for Joe to get the car and pick me up.
  • 28 1/2 hours on my feet and completing 76 miles and feeling just as awake and alert as the moment the race started. Sorer, stinkier, and much hungrier, I was content with what we had accomplished.
  • Receiving my "MMT Visitor's Award" (picture at the beginning of the story). Way cool.
  • Getting to a hotel with a real bed, putting my feet up and downing two beers with my wonderful crew. And after a nap, heading out for dinner where I actually was able to sit up and stay awake, and enjoy two "mucho margaritas" with my wonderful crew. Cheers to us! Another Pork Slap Ale when we got back to hotel room, and my recovery was well under way.
  • Waking throughout the night to eat . . . salt & vinegar chips, peanut M&Ms, Combos, cold french fries, and a piece of cold fried fish left over from dinner. And still being hungry when I woke up in the morning.

So this was my adventure through the Massanutten Mountains. Not a 100 miles this time, but likely one of the greatest adventures I have and will undertake. It was the scariest, hardest, most awesome thing I have ever done. I did more things that I would never have done on my own because they are high on my "fear factor" list - and did them without even thinking about it. You do what you have to do. But it is so much easier to get through them with a lot of help from your friends.

Will I try another 100-miler? At this time I am ready for a break, ready to get some strong 50-milers in and get ready for a 100K in August. But 100 miles? Never say never. I may be bruised and battered, tired and whipped, but remember . . . the body will forgive what the mind will inevitably forget.

CLICK HERE for a link to some of the pics of the weekend. More to come when the Funsaver gets developed!

Cowgirl up! Pick 'em up, put 'em down, RAWHIDE!