Tuesday, October 9, 2018

How did I get a bruise there? Finishing the Oil Creek 100k for the third time.

I didn't train much this summer. I wanted to.  I tried to.  I'd set my alarm for 5am, and lay out my work out clothes, and then, when that alarm played it's pretty music, I'd thump snooze about 14 times, and then have to get up and actually get ready for work instead of going for that pre-dawn run or do that workout on the treadmill.

I was hired at a full time job this summer, which while great for the amount of running gear and shoes I can buy, is not so good on the time flexibility for working out, at least in my mind.  I've been tired, mentally and physically after learning a new routine, and though I got some running in, it was not enough.

So as the day of the Oil Creek 100k crept closer, I thought about pulling the plug.  I'd done a few long runs, a couple of races, some bike rides, but I didn't feel 100k strong.  But then my running mentor / ultra-buddy Roger (who took a bad spill during last year's race) signed up to run with me, and I thought, if I could run with him, get some of his trail confidence back, it would be worth some pain.

So I lined up a pacer, threw my stuff together, and was ready to go!

Saturday morning, as ready as I was going to get!

Saturday morning I woke up easy at 3 am, taped / lubed up, and drove the 35 minutes to the school.  I saw some of the 100 milers off, hugged folks, high-fived folks and had a very low-key race start. 

The 100k, for me, is a lot less stressful than the 100 miler, but more to bite off than the 50k.  I knew, even out of shape, I could finish it in slow fashion.  I knew the weather forecast, calling for high temps and rain, was not favorable for a fast finish, but I was hoping for under 24 hours, since in 2017 I had finished in 25 hours.  I knew I hadn't put in the training, but I was hoping I had enough of a base, and enough stubbornness to keep going and finish.

Rog and I at the start of the 100k!

From the beginning, Roger and I ran with another runner that I had run with a bit with last year, Kasia (rhymes with Tasha - I had trouble pronouncing her poor name all day, so sorry Kasia).  The three of us set an easy pace through the pre-dawn darkness.  I was leading our group, and we had made it about 4 miles in and were on the trail, when I stopped.  There was a black and white kitty laying right there in the middle of the trail.  I was a little worried that she was sick or rabid, but she rubbed against our legs and purred and mewed at us.  We kept going, but she ran along with us.  She would run in front of us, and flop down on the trail.  She stayed with us for a couple of miles at least. (I later heard someone carried her to the Aid Station, and that she found a great home!)

 Trail kitty setting the pace.

It was super humid and already warm.  Daylight broke before we got to the first aid station, and my glasses were fogging up on the uphills or when we paused for a rest.  I was eating gels about every 45 minutes, drinking plenty.  We went slow on the wooden bridges and boardwalks; they were all super slick from the humidity and rain over the last few weeks.  We were running nice and easy, and being really careful on the slick downhills.

The trail was beautiful.  This was right after the 50k leaders blew by us like we were standing still.  Oh, I think we were standing still.

We came to aid station one, and we filled up our bottles, used the conveniently located porta potties, and I ate a few strawberries, had a cup of Dr. pepper, and grabbed a cup full of Swedish fish for the trip up the switchbacks.  

I was huffing and puffing all the way up those steep switchbacks.  I hate how terrible I am at uphills.  I stubborned my way up, and I am determined to improve that bit about myself in the future.  The lack of training was showing. 

The time on the trail went fast.  We were chatting and having a great time.  I flew down some of my favorite down hills, and my legs and feet felt great. As we were crossing the final bridge to the Petroleum Center aid station, I heard a familiar "Woo!"  My dad and step-mom had brought Eli down to cheer us on. I gave him a hug (he said I was gross), and he ran into the Aid Station with us.  It was great to see my family down there, and we chatted with them while I changed shoes and we got some food.  I ate a couple of grilled cheese quarters, ate some pickles, filled my bottles, and we were out of there pretty quickly.  My 68-year old dad insisted I call him if I needed any help or a pacer(not in the rainstorms, dad), and we were on our way. 

Kasia in section 3.

Kasia was having some knee issues, and our pace was slowing slightly, but we were seeing friends, chatting subjects from siblings to driving tickets, favorite vacation spots, droughts and floods.  Aid station three captains and volunteers had painted all these beautiful little rocks with inspirational sayings or artwork on the, and they kept us exclaiming and hunting for our own special rock to take as a souvenir of our adventure.  

Aid Station three was great.  I had been mostly eating gels and drinking water or Gatorade all day, but aid station three had these rice/chicken/ bean/cheese quesadilla things that were awesome and hit the spot.  We were taking our time in the aid stations - hugging friends, chatting, gathering what we needed, fixing problems, eating from the smorgasbord of options.  Having run both the 100 miler and the 100k the last couple of years, not having to worry as much about meeting cutoffs for the 100k makes the experience much less stressful for a slower runner like myself.

Woo!

We started into section 4, and Rog and I were still running a little, but Kasia had slowed even more because of her knees.  She was urging us to go ahead, but we were having a great time hanging and chatting with her, so we went ahead slightly, but walked a bit slower and she would catch up on the flats and uphills.  

Nothing quite like autumn in the woods.

We caught up with other friends, and about a mile from the end of the trail, we came across a rather young porcupine in the trail.  He or she meandered off quite quickly though.

Porky-pine-butt.

The three of us made it back to the school by 4:30 - a little later than we had hoped, but still pretty much on schedule (if we had a schedule).  I took the time to change clothes and shoes.  I was getting the the point where I wasn't wanting to eat at all.  I had a few pickles, and a bite of a cheese quesadilla, some coke, and took a package of Swedish fish for the trail.  I filled up my gels, grabbed my headlamp, and then checked to see if Rog and Kasia were ready to go.

Someone had given Kasia their trekking poles, so she was game to go back out on the trail.  Rog gave her his bear-bell and she was ok with setting out on her own, knowing she was slowing down.

Rog and I headed out onto the trail.  We were pretty much just hiking, but we were feeling good.  The only part of me that was hurting at that point were my little toes.  I had tried to wrap them, but that made them feel not only like they were going to fall off, but to explode, then fall off.  So I set them free, and hoped for the best. In hindsight, I should have done a little more for my feet, but little did I know...

As we made our way down the bike trail, the skies were filling with big puffy thunderheads.  We kept hearing rumbles.  I could see that the storm was sort of forming right over us, so I knew our best bet was to just keep moving.  As we neared the hiking trail start, we could smell a bear, and it was super super stinky.  I was expecting the thing to run out in front of us, but we never saw him or her, but man, did we smell it.

The rumbling of the storm followed us, and right as we got to the trail split for the 5 mile / going home loop, the skies opened up.  I had not brought my visor, so my glasses were soon spotted with water, and I just kept my head down, and was glad we were still in day-light.  The rain was very refreshing, because we had been so hot all day - but my feet were soon soaked, we were squelching through mud and puddles and roaring streams.  The little streams that earlier in the day had been trickling, were roaring.  Miller run looked like a fountain of chocolate milk (we were thirsty and calorie deprived, ok?)

It only rained hard on us for probably a mile or so, and we only had one flash of lightning that made us jump out of our skin a little, but the trail was now a slop-fest.  It hadn't exactly been dry all day, but now it was just it's own little body of water.

Muddy trail as the rain was sprinkling at sunset.

Steamy and damp trail runners.  We're still smiling though!

Everything was still pretty good to aid station 1.  They had potato soup and lasagna!  I was actually hungry enough to eat both - and they had another pack of Swedish fish (I had devoured the first one before the rain hit).  We visited with Heather Nelson and the folks down below Wolfkiel, and Rog fixed a foot issue, and then we were off.

By now it was full dark, but we were still in good spirits.  I decided I would change my socks again at Petroleum center.  My feet were squishing with every step, but there wasn't much I could do about the amount of water.  It was a slow plod, but we made good time.  We saw some salamanders, got passed by quite a few hundred milers (some of whom we knew).  Kudos to those guys, in the conditions we were having.  The only saving grace was the temperature.  It was still warm, even in the dark.

I think it was around 10:30 when we rolled in to Petroleum Center.  Kathy(my pacer) was super ready to pace! She was practically bouncy.  We had slowed down, and I think, if I hadn't knew Kathy was ready and raring to pace, I may have dropped out there.  But I changed my socks, ate a couple of pickles, grabbed gels and was ready.  I swapped headlights, Rog changed batteries, and we were off (slowly).

Kathy filled us in on all the happenings of the day, entertaining us with stories of barfing runners, nasty feet issues, helpful boy scouts, impressed by our craziness, bear sightings, Sasquatch stories, and more.  She was bubbly and energetic, and she led us on.

We saw a ton of spotted salamanders, mice, frogs, toads.  Heard deer and maybe.. sasquatch, but we were getting slower, and more quiet.  Heard a ton of peeper frogs.  Saw bouncy mice.  Heard coyotes once.  My feet were killing me, Rog was going into continuous yawn mode, and Rog had also gone into the black-hole of time math and wanting to be off of the trail.

Rog was pretty sure he was going to drop at aid station 3.  I told him we had tons of time, but he was pretty much done.  He was also having vision issues relating to his fall from the year before, probably not helped by the exhaustion and fog and moisture.  By the time we hit the road, he was ready to be done, and I couldn't blame him.

On the road leading down to aid station 3, Rog handed Kathy his trekking poles, telling her she would need them with all the slop mud.  And it WAS slop mud. I had never seen the trails so muddy and torn up.  Too much moisture and too many people.  Kathy flourished the poles like a sasquatch fighting sword master, making Rog jump, and set us all laughing that last bit down the hill.

It was hard to think about going on without Rog.  I wanted to drop so much, that I made myself not think about it at all, so that I couldn't do it. I stood there at aid station 3, and I tried to eat bacon. I had two cups of coffee.  I picked up a gel, since I was almost out of my own, and the idea of most real food sounded awful.

I was super tired, and as I used the port-potty again before we left aid station 3, I briefly wonder what would happen if I fell asleep in it, and being wet and muddy and slick, it probably would be easy to fall in.  I made sure I didn't.  Ew.

I gave Rog a quick hug, and Kathy and I were off.  I was much less talkative at this point.  It was just the pain in my feet and the walking through the mud.  The very slow walking.  I'm not sure what time we left the station, but it had to be 3 am. 

I had wanted to drop, and now I couldn't.  Because I had kept going.  I had not thought about dropping until I was past a point where I could.  I wouldn't have let myself turn around at that point anyway, and neither would Kathy.  I wanted my dad to see I did it, and Eli, and my work folks, who think I'm crazy, and all my wild running friends who do this crazy thing too.  My feet were blistered, and I was tired, but everything else felt ok.  I pushed forward.

I love section 4, which was a blessing.  I know it very very well, and so even though I was going super slow, the plodding forward in the dark actually didn't seem too bad.  One hill, then another.  Down a hill, hear crashing in the bushes that you hope isn't a bear or a sasquatch and go a little faster...

The squishy mud and wet places were actually better for my feet then the solid roots or rocky parts of the trail, which set my feet screaming and burning with each step. So I squelched and squished as much as I could. 

I asked Kathy to talk, to keep me awake, and she told stories and complained and stopped for my having to pee every other mile (I was well hydrated, at least).  We had made it to the bench, about 3 miles before the end of the trail, and I was falling asleep while I was hiking.  I was weaving and I felt like I was going to fall down. I was leading, because it made me feel more awake, but I found a rock, and told Kathy I had to stop.  I just needed to close my eyes for a minute.  I sat down, closed my eyes for maybe 2 minutes (maybe it was 2 hours and Kathy was too nice to say so), but man, did that 2 minutes help. Just that brief rest, and I stood up, and we kept going.  The skies again opened up and drenched us for a good 10 minutes, but the sky was getting lighter, and dawn was breaking as we finally came off of the trail. 

Kathy got me off the trail!!!  Yay!

After that - we were giddy and goofy, and though the miles were slow, they were happy because we knew I would make it. I tried to run a couple of times, but my feet felt like shards of glass, so I shambled on.
Getting goofy on the Drake Well Loop.

I did run the last 15 feet to the finish line, then walked over the mat.  I gave Tom Jennings a hug, and told him I had never seen the trail so bad, and it was probably harder to keep going in that mud and rain than it had been when I finished the 100 miler, because at least the weather had been better.

Tom handed me my buckle, and Kathy and I found my drop bag and boxes, and we wandered inside.  I peeled off my shoes and socks, and Kathy was very very kind to move my car closer and help me get my stuff together.
Subtract an hour from this - one hour slower than last year, but I'll take it.  25:55:27.

Not eight minutes after I finished, the skies opened and it poured buckets again.  The look on Kathy's face as she came in with my stuff, soaked, set me laughing again.  

What a race, what a day and night of craziness and all the awesome experiences that I wanted.  I showered and went home.

My feet are bad, but not as bad as they felt out there.  I found an odd number of bruises on my hands, legs, feet, that I don't remember getting during the night.  I'm not terribly sore, but do have some tremors from lack of enough of my calcium meds for the amount of exercise I did.  My voice is still gone from all the wooing and cheering and talking.

Rog got home safe.  Kasia dropped about 42 miles in, her knees too bad to go on.  Other friends were forced to drop because of the terrible conditions, or exhaustion, or injury.  I'm amazed by the folks that pressed on to finish the 100 miler in the rain and terrible trail conditions.

I have run trails for about seven years now.  I've run with fast folk, and slower folk.  With folks who I might not agree with across the dinner table, but would fight a bear to defend in the woods.  With folks who make me laugh until I cry, and some who are not on this earth to run with any longer.  Maybe I only get to see these folks on the trail once a year, for a handful of miles, or even for a brief hand grasp, hug, or high five, but this is my family and my tribe, and I will be on these trails until there is not enough life in me to make it there anymore. 

My feet are a little better today, the third day after.  I'm not very sore, and the bruises are fading.  Maybe I'll just volunteer or pace next year.  Maybe I'll drag my dad out and get him to hike 50k with me so he can see all this craziness that I have fallen in love with.  Maybe I'll get the itch to conquer a different distance again.  I just know I'll be back every year, because more than anything in my life, Oil Creek is family and home.

Monday, August 20, 2018

I'm your only friend, I'm not you're only friend, but really I'm not actually your friend but I am.

When I was a freshman in college, I visited a pet store, and having owned several lovebirds, I saw this lovely baby gray and white cockatiel.  I bought him, and brought him home with me.  I taught him to whistle, and my dad taught him to not whistle, and he was mostly grumpy and his favorite thing was to sit on the windowsill and yell at blue jays.

I woke up this morning to find my little 20 year old friend still and cold.  I buried him in the back yard under a tussock of earth and grass.  

I'm sad today.  Caliban was not neglected, but with a child and dogs and a job, he just sat in his cage and sang to his mirror and watched the birds through the bars of his cage and through his window.  But at that, he was neglected.

I'm sorry Caliban, that you didn't get another chance to perch on the windowsill and yell at those blue-jays, or that you didn't get to wander around the bottom of your cage placed in the grass. I'm sorry I didn't buy you the millet that I wanted you to enjoy.

I'm glad that I took you out and cleaned you and talked to you last week, even though you hissed and yelled at me for doing it.  I'm sorry that being a better person for me, made me be a less better person for you.

Fly free on un-clipped wings, my poor boy.  I hope in your next life, someone loves you with the amount of joy you deserve, but thank you for being a steady and unfailing song in the background for such a long period of my life.  The quiet of no background chirps will be a unbearable for a little while


Sunday, August 5, 2018

The girl who fell to earth

It's difficult to explain to my circle of friends and family and co workers what it's like to go off on one of these weekends of doing an ultra race, or crewing or pacing, and then coming home after.  Especially when you come home to just your loyal dogs, and no people to really talk to about your adventure. It almost feels imaginary.  Or I was off on a different planet, consorting with different beings.

"You were going to run how many miles?"  "How long have you known this girl you were going to run 50 miles with?"  "You only ran with her twice before this?"  "You're driving how far?"

So when Rose asked me a week and a half ago if I would pace her for her first 100 mile attempt, I said yes!  Eli was going to be away, and I had been hoping to get away myself for part of the week, so I wasn't making myself crazy with missing him.  Rose herself thought I was crazy, when we were talking about the race an making plans, she kept thanking me.  I told her people have done me some very good turns in the ultra-running community, and I feel like it's just my part to pay some of it forward.

So I had my dog sitter, and I headed two and a half hours north to Lockport to pace a friend in the infamous Beast of Burden, summer version.  The drive was fine (I bought Swedish fish, of course).  I had all my stuff (I hoped).  My phone flatly (but cheerfully) told me when I was approaching my destination, and Rose met me in her car and escorted me through the campground to her cozy home away from home.

The campground was very pretty, but packed.  We drove the requisite five miles per hour past horse-shoe pits, pretty little lakes with ducks, children clad only in diapers or bathing suits, people moseying with dogs; the quintessential family campground.  I remember camping in places like this when I was very young, making ephemeral childhood friends that disappeared into memory like car tail lights in fog.  It was a nice campground, but I guess I've gotten used to the solitude of tent camping in the middle of the woods.  It's not that this was bad at all. Just different.

Parked at the camper, I settled my stuff, and we made a plan for the next day.  Then we curled up on our separate pop out beds, and I thought the campground would be noisy and I wouldn't sleep. The sun had just set, and there were some sounds of voices, and some scampering children once, and a soft crackling of a campfire nearby, and crickets and cicadas, but that was all.  And I slept, pretty well, and when I did wake, it was being too warm or cool that woke me, not noises.

I wanted to give Rose space to get in the zone in the morning, and also, I wanted coffee, so once we woke, I gathered myself and went off in search of coffee and the race start.

The start of the Beast of Burden race in Lockport, at the Widewaters Marina.

The race didn't start until 10am, so the sun was already high and hot!

I found coffee, and it was a very pretty morning, misty and cool, but I knew the temps would rise.  I had told Rose to drink and eat and get some electrolytes in.  I knew I also needed to make sure I ate and kept hydrated.  I was guessing that I wouldn't be pacing Rose until at least 10 or 11 in the evening, so I knew I had to make sure I took care of me, as well as her.

The start line was quiet, and Rose got there right after I did.  Her friend David (who was pacing another friend of Rose's named Rhonda who was running the 50 mile distance)was there as well, and he had brought a canopy tent, which we set up, and we took advantage of the shade.  The sun was already hot.  We got our own little Aid Station area set up with all of our stuff, and the parking lot was very conveniently located, so I backed my forester up to the path where the runners would be coming by, and I had my own portable Aid Station.

Rose -  nervous, but ready to go!

Sunblind and raring to go!
We got her checked in, and she did her final checks and got her bib in place.  I had suggested Leukotape for her feet, to prevent any hotspots and blisters, so we got her feet ready, and we went to the start for the pre-race meeting.  I got to see my friends Rog and Clyde (who were running the 50 miler), and also my friend Shawn, who was crewing and pacing for another runner.  The day was already sizzling, and the runners were off!

Rose starting out with a mix of run and walking - it worked great for her!

So the Beast of Burden is a very flat and exposed race along the Erie Canal.  They run a race in the smoldering heat of August summer, and the bitter chill of New York February winter.  They have 25, 50, and 100 mile distances.  The "loop" is an out and back of 25 miles, so there is 12.5 miles between each of the crew accessible aid stations.  There is also a middle aid station that no crew is allowed to access, but there is also another canal trail access before the aid station that we were using just to check in on our runners through the day.
The map of the course.

As a trail runner, the course has two things that work against me.  It's flat, and it's totally exposed.  Not a lick of shade.  I have heard nightmare stories of this course from friends about chafing, about freezing, about sun burn, about dehydration.  Which is why I have avoided running it like the plague.  But crewing and pacing... that's a different story.  Right?

So Rose and the other runners were off!  I figured I had at least 2.5-3ish hours before Rose arrived at the Middleport aid station 12.5 miles east down the trail.  David said he was going to head to Orangeport (though I would call it Orangeburg for the majority of the day) which was the sneaky-crew-access-point before the No-no zone of Gasport.  Shawn gave me GPS directions, but I wanted to get the lay of the land and maybe find something to eat before I had to meet Rose.

Middleport

This lock bridge raised up via hydraulics.  It went up to let boats pass under it once, and I felt bad for the runners that had to walk up the stairs to cross.

The clouds moved in and provided a tiny bit of relief, occasionally, from the heat.

It was hot.  The sun was relentless.  I doused myself with sunblock early, and reapplied several times.  I offered sunblock to Rose in the morning, but she worried it would effect her ability to sweat.

I made it to Middleport.  Traveling between the two accessible Aid stations and the sneaky pants Orange(burg)port aid stations was easy.  I noted a Tim Hortons, an Tops Grocery store, and several gas stations on my way to Middleport, in case anything was needed.

I found a little Cafe/Deli on the corner, and thought, "Perfect!"  So I checked the time - 10:48.  Plenty of time to eat. I had at least an hour or more before Rose would arrive. They were just setting up the Aid station in a building along the main street (complete with indoor restrooms and a kitchen/running water/ tables with drop bags).  I ordered a chicken wrap and fries and ice water.

I drank 3 waters and sat there an hour before my food was ready.  I try not to be an impatient person.  And if it's only me, I could probably wait forever and not stand up for myself for fear of hurting someone's feelings, but I was really worried my runner would show up and I would be shoving french fries in my face.  I asked for a to-go box, handed her the amount of money to cover the bill, and scootched back outside to stuff my face along the trail and watch for the runners.

David was there, and we sat together and chatted (with my mouth full).   He had gone to Orangeport and said Rose was looking good.  David was lean and mean and an athlete in his own right, but was perfectly happy to chill and talk about dogs and running.   Shawn had been through with his runner and I popped up and helped them out.  I saw Rog coming in not long after, and I hopped up and jogged with him to the aid station.  He was too hot, and pulled off his arm sleeves an asked for scissors and cut off his leg sleeves.  Shawn also helped.  I helped fill his bottle, got him some ice, and schoom, he was off like the flash that he is.  Never, ever believe Roger when he tells you he's out of shape.

Rose wasn't too far behind.  She drank a little, but said she wasn't hungry.  She ate a banana.  I told her she needed to eat and drink more.  She put on her arm sleeves because the sun was bothering her.  She didn't stay long, and was super cheerful.  She was back out to the course.  She said her feet felt great
Rose smiley and feeling good!
 I headed to Orangeport, and I saw a gas station on the way.  I stopped and got some ice and some other stuff (including caffeine for myself).  I got to the sneaky access point and saw Shawn was there (he was riding his bike up and down the canal to access the aid stations and to get a workout before pacing later.  He's a crazy ultra runner as well, remember.).  Just as we were catching up, we saw Rog coming through.  Shawn had some extra water, so gave it to Rog, and Rog was off like a streak again.  I set up my chair, and it was breezy in the shade just off the tow-path.  David showed up again soon, and we all hung out for a while.  There are worse ways to spend a day than catching up with friends and waiting for other friends and helping people.  Seriously was in my element.  And when you see another runner having it rough, you help them.  And you see other crew there, and they offer your runner things, or offer you a chair, or a beer...

Refreshing!

It was sprinkling slightly, which was lovely and cooled the runners down briefly  Shawn's runner came through, and he left soon after so he could beat him back to the start.  Rose was not far behind.  She had no pain, and was moving nice and steady at around 4 miles per hour.  She said she had eaten some salted potatoes, but was hot and thirsty.  I asked her if she liked frozen lemonade.  She said yes, and was off. 

I made a couple stops for Tim Horton's frozen lemonade and Ritz crackers and a few other things, iced tea, ginger ale, gum.  Back to the start, where I found the canopy tent upside down.  I muscled it back into place, then walked over to use the bathroom.  It was upside down again when I got back.  I realized that the sides of the canopy were acting like a kite, so I undid the sides - they flapped in the wind, but let the wind through, so that it didn't end up in the canal.  David was back shortly, and we rolled the sides up, and waited.

Rose on the far side of the canal - the runners could see the start/finish area from over there, but still had about 2 miles from that point

We saw Rose across the canal, which means we would see her in about 30 minutes.  We got stuff all ready for her.  When she arrived she was feeling ok - and sucked down the frozen lemonade.  She still wasn't eating much, and was drinking ok.  She was used to shorter distances and just not eating much during them.  She had a couple of potatoes and some pickles, and we doctored her feet and a few other issues.

Her feet with the Leukotape were still feeling great, but she wanted to add some to her heels and the balls of her feet, as wall as reinforce the tape on her toes.  I tried to tell her she needed to eat and drink more, that she was already behind and it would be worse later.  She rolled out of the aid station before 5 oclock, 25 miles down, 75 to go!  David stayed at the start/finish.  He'd be pacing his runner, Rhonda, once she came in from the first loop, and getting her through the next 25 miles.

Looking and feeling good!

Shawn's other half, Angelia was at the race, and it was good to catch up with her.  I hadn't seen the two of them since last summer, so getting to hang out for a bit of extended time was great.  I got ready to head back to Orangeport(I was still mistakenly calling it Orangeburg at times).  More waiting, more helping, more visiting.  Rose was still looking good, but was getting frustrated that nothing sounded good to eat.  I had picked up another frozen lemonade for her, and we got her in and out of our sneaky aid station, and I went to Middleport.  I had forgotten to give Rose her lights for the next leg, but Shawn and Angelia said they would bike and get it to her.  It wasn't dark yet, but I was worried she'd be caught in the dark if she slowed.

Sunset at Middleport

I got back to Middleport, just in time to meet Rog and help him fill up his water and give him a couple of different gels from my personal stash.  He was fired up, but was also cramping and wanted to be done.  He was on his way!  

I ended up chatting with a couple of other crewpeople for a while, before Rose came in.  She still looked great, and decided on a shoe change.  She was unsure if they would still feel good by the time she went 12.5 miles back to the start and her other shoes.  I had been planning on heading back to the start/finish to rest up a bit before my pacing duties, but I said I would take the shoes she had been wearing to the sneaky Orangeport locale, just in case.  

Rose had been wearing vibrams (the toe shoes) for the first 37.5 miles of the race, and her feet needed a bit of a break.  

She drank a bunch, but her appetite was zilch.  She ate a few potato chips.  I told her she should to get a gel down - I made her drink some gingerale, offered her crackers, candy, but she was worried other stuff would make her throw up.  I walked her down the trail a bit, snapped a photo of her, then she was was gone. 
37.5 miles down!

See you in Orangeburgport!

I had been not feeling hungry most of the day, but it was 8:30, the sun was going down, and I wanted something to eat.  Another runner's crew member had talked about an Arbys, but the idea of driving too far away from the course made me nervous.  I decided on Timmies again.

Timmies was still open, and it said it served breakfast all day.  That sounded good.  I went to order a breakfast sandwich, and the (very hard to hear) drive through lady said somethng that sounded like "pmmphfphbophfrsree"  Ohhhh.  Buy one get one free!  Sure!  I know some hungry people.  I also got myself a frozen lemonade.

Back at Orangeport, Shawn and Angelia were there, and Shawn gratefully accepted the extra breakfast sandwhich, and as the world got darker, we visited a while, then Angelia got going, since she needed to get home to their puppy and worked the next day.  Shawn realized he had left headlamps in the car, so I loaned them mine, since I knew Angelia could drop it back off at the start for me, and I would see Shawn next aid station

The other member of Shawn's runner's crew, Ian, showed up, and the three of us had a great time just chatting. Mike, Shawn's runner, came in, looking vague, and Rose was right behind him.  Her feet felt fine, but she still wasn't eating. We filled her water bottles, and she was off.  Back to the start.

The Subaru Forester makes a nice little portable aid station.

It was about 10:15 as I approached the start/finish area, and I saw some flashes.  Uh oh.  Thunderstorm?  That would make running in the night a bit more frightening.  Another flash - Reddish.  Then white, then blue... what?!    Oooohhh.. Fireworks!  Neat!  I pulled into the marina area just as the finale went off, and unbeknownst to me, Rog had just made a sub 12 hour 50 mile finish.  I just missed him.  

I was sleepy.  I got all my running stuff on.  I greased myself up against chafing.  I taped my feet.  I found the light Angelia left back at our area. I filled my water bottles, I sat in a chair and leaned back to doze.  

The wave of homesickness caught me like a hand around my throat all of a sudden. I missed my son, I missed my dogs, I missed my bed.  I take a deep breath, I try to shake it off.  At this point - it's dark. The Aid station is lit up like a holiday tree, but a little bit away from the aid station, people are nothing but moving lights, or shadows, or little bits of reflective tape on clothing, a flashing led.  I see a form come towards me, and I figure it's Shawn.  Ok.  Deep breath.  That closes off my panicky home-sickness attack.  Shawn says he saw Rose and her lights were out of battery, so he finds some batteries for us that he had, and I get ready for Rose.  

I set an alarm for 30 minutes, thinking I should have that long to doze.  I close my eyes again.  Homesickness and missing my son starts to close around me again, and the phone on my chest vibrates.. It's Rose!

She sounds like she's in tears.  She hurts, she has horrible stomach cramps and she wants to be done. The homesickness sizzles away like a drop of water on a burner.  

I try to calm her down over the phone.  The Heed/water mix is turning her stomach. She says she's almost back, she's just made the turn back towards us.  It's just midnight.  I grab some plain ice water and jog down the trail.  I drop my extra headlamp. I drop my keys. I fumble things, curse myself, and tighten, fasten, and take a breath, then run.

Rose is nearly doubled over,  she sips some water.  We just walk.  She's ready to drop.  I tell her, lets get back, sit for a bit, then she can decide.  I know that if she feels better in 10 minutes, she'll regret dropping.

We get back, we rest, but it's not getting better.  We go to the start.  

....

Confidentially, I've only paced and crewed a couple of times.  I did ok. I learned a lot. I've been running ultra's for 7 years now.  I still feel like a novice.  When it comes to heat and hydration, to stomach issues, cramps, I'm not sure what to do.  I'm not a hard-ass.  I can't force someone to eat or drink. I can't force someone to throw up to see if that helps.  I can't force someone to keep going, when I don't think I would keep going myself.  But I gave myself three times to try to convince her to keep going, and after that, I was on her side to quit.

Rose stopped running with 50 miles under her belt.  She was feeling amazing in her body, except for her stomach.  I think the lack of water just shut down her guts, and her body said no more.

I've stopped running for less concerning reasons.  Rose was right to stop.  She was tearful and regretful for my coming so far, and not getting to run.  

I said to her, "If I were there, in that seat, having to drop because I felt so terrible, and you had been crewing me all day, would you be upset, or disappointed?  Would you blame me?"  

We all have our good and bad days, and I loved nearly every minute of my crewing duties at the Beast of Burden.  And I would do it again.  And if my next runner drops, I will still do it again.  Ultra running isn't always about running.  We do it for the connection, for the outdoors.  And maybe a little for the food and beer.

So here I am.  Home.  Back to planet earth.  But book me a seat on that next ride to the Ultra-side.  I'm a bit of an outsider here in this place of a little less shoes, and a little less sweat and tears, and a little less sky.

I will get back there soon.  See you there.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

When you miss your child, but you are enjoying your time...

I have a confession to make.  I didn't go grocery shopping this week.  I ate hot dogs for lunch all week.  And toaster oven pizza for dinner.  And chips.  There may not been an actual vegetable consumed this week that wasn't some kind of bi-product tomato.

My son is in Sweden with his father for their summer vacation together this week, so I've been on my own.  I go to work, I come home, and become a basic sluggard.  I miss my boy.  And I also.. don't.

Besides the lack of work-out guilt, I've really been enjoying myself this week and the schedule of not having a schedule.  I've watched movies and shows I couldn't watch with my 10 year old.  I've gone to bed way too early, and way too late.  I never realized I could use a vacation from him, and though I really really miss him, it's ok to have him away, because I didn't realize I needed this me time too.

And it's ok. 

Sunday, April 8, 2018

I Will Learn to Love the Skies I'm Under


It's been a while since I've written here.  I've sat here a few times, and pondered deep words and not easy words to write about how I've been doing great, or not so great, how I've been putting in the miles and the time, and how it's much much harder to keep going and doing than to just lay down and... not.

But I've never been one to take an easy road, so here I am, a year later, and on my own.  Well, I mean, I have support.  I also have my son, and my pups, which whom without, I would be lost.  But I've been doing this on my own now for over a year. 

And I'm... ok.  I don't want to say I'm great.  And I'm happy, a lot of the times, but happy is such a simple, vapid word.  I'm strong, and I'm satisfied.   I'm discovering what I'm capable of, and I probably should have known this about me a long time ago.  I'm not bad with money.  I'm able to figure out grocery shopping, bills, finances, car stuff, kid stuff, vacations.  Hell, I did my own taxes.  I'm faceted and talented and I'm feeling confident in myself for doing a great number of things I didn't think possible.

But in a lot of ways, my world is very very small now.  I don't really go out much besides to the woods.  My circle of friends has shrunk.  There is a stigma for me against doing things; to assume things that people think about me, and to be social is scary.  It's harder to stand alone under this idea of me, than it was as a family entity.  There was a safety in that family thing, and now it's this just me thing, and I feel shut out. 

I was always myself even when I was married, but now that I'm not, I'm not quite sure how to be.

I don't exactly think anyone is shutting me out, but I'm shutting me out of things. I'm not spending as much money, so driving far or going out for food or drinking is not very enjoyable.  I'm working a lot more, so staying up to do anything, or making plans during the week when I'm exhausted is not probable.  And my kid comes first, and being point on his care has also made me make some social sacrifices that I'm not entirely sad about.

There is still some shadow on me that I let sit on my shoulder and tell me bad things about myself, that most days it's easier to just let it eat at me, and lay in bed, or go alone to the woods and just try to figure out my path.

Things aren't easy right now, but I've never been one to hide from what I'm afraid of, so we'll just see where the next pages turn.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Run Your Own Race, unless running someone else's race IS your race.

I try to be a good person.  Cheerful, encouraging, because I feel like this world needs it.  I am my own worst critic, and this summer was miserable for me for training, because my heart and head haven't been in it.

But I was signed up for Oil Creek 100, the 100k distance (that's 62 miles, two loops of the course), and I went into it knowing I would enjoy the time, run with friends, and have no expectations of myself.  It was a new way to go into a race, and I think I liked it.

I ran with my friend, Megan, who was attempting her first 100k.  I ran the 100k back in 2012, and did a fairly good job back then, but I wanted to be there for Megan and get her to the finish.  So we ran, and boy, did we have fun!

Smiles most of the day.  Night was a different story.

Race day always starts early, but I wasn't too nervous until I got down to the school.  I hugged people and wished them good luck, and Megan and I started in the dark.  We whooped and cheered and trotted into the woods.

We were taking it slow, because we knew we had a long way to go - it was Megan's first 100k, and the furthest she had ever gone, and we were both slightly undertrained, due to a broken thumb for me, and her having her wisdom teeth out a month earlier, with complications.  So we took it slow, and we talked, whooped, high-fived (yes, with my stupid broken thumb, but I learned to switch hands, eventually), and cheered our way through the first loop.  

Megan and I are both talkers, so the miles went fast.  I was eating gels and drinking plenty of water, and checking in with Megan to make sure she was doing the same.  I kept checking in with her to make sure she was keeping track of how her feet were feeling as well.  I bonked my toes plenty of times, and tripped a dozen times, but caught myself.   We took our time at the Aid Stations, fixing feet, getting food, visiting with the amazing volunteers and friends we'd see there.

Fog lifting over the Derrick Tableau

The past year has not been an easy one for me.  No health issues, but life issues.  And I've learned a lot about me.  I've never felt "good" running alone during these events.  Never.  Not the kind of "bad" as in being in pain or stomach issues.  Not the kind of "bad" because the night is cold, or the day is hot or long.  I am my own worst enemy in my own brain.  But when I'm helping some one, moving someone else forward, I can do anything.  When I'm alone on the trail, I get full of frustration at myself, at the things I have done in life that are terrible and wrong, at what I should change to be a better person, and I lose myself in my own self-deprecation in my own head.

So running with Megan was a gift, it wasn't a chore.  Being her friend and companion, and a little bit of a nag was motivation for me.  I have done the best in all my races when someone is with me.  Even when it's my race, and have a pacer - I do better when I put it on myself to finish so not to let THEM down.  When my Dad paced me for the 100 - pushing for that last seven miles was so I could share those miles with him.

I don't know what kind of person that makes me. Maybe I need to be a pacer instead of running these races for "me." 

Hugging my boy at the end of section 3

One of the best parts of my day was that Eli was there at the end of section 3 the first time through.  I heard his little woo down through the woods, and sprinted down to meet him and give him a giant hug.  His dad had brought him, and we had been too fast through Aid Station 2 the first time to meet them.

Anyway, we made it back to the school aid station in the late afternoon, and the heat was getting to us.  I was still running some here and there.  My back had started bothering me a bit, but some stretching and a little bit of ibuprofen had worked the kink out.  Megan was wilting in the heat, so I was hoping getting back to the school and cooling down would help.  The paved bike path hurt, but we made it back.

Leafy long trails.  Beautiful out there!

We took our time at Aid Station 4.  I changed clothes and shoes, ate food, drank some pickle juice.  After walking around in the shoes I had changed into, I changed back into the others.  They hadn't been giving me issues, and the other shoes were rubbing as I walked around the Aid Station.  Dave D., Megan's pacer (and a fellow Oil Creek native and friend) was there at the Aid Station with chairs set up for us, filled our bottles, fetched us things, and patched us up for the next leg of our journey.  Rob G. was also there helping us out, and waiting for his pacee, Dan W.  We timed it out that once Dan came in, we were all ready to leave at the same time.  

Those next couple of miles on the bike trail were silly and I think just what we all needed.  I was feeling slightly off because of the food, but once we hit the end of the bike trail (and portajohn handily placed there), I felt much better, and we hit the trail.

Being silly on the bike trail

We started out together, but Dan wasn't feeling his greatest, and we slowly pulled ahead.  We hoped they would catch us eventually, but we didn't see them again, and Dan ended up dropping at Aid Station 1 as his legs stopped working reliably (as we heard later). 

We slowed down on Section 2.  Megan's feet were hurting, and though we were still chatty, I was getting tired, and I'd pull ahead and was watching the ground for wooly bears, and salamanders, and we even saw deer laying in the woods, their eyes shining at us with our headlamps. I think we would eventually count about 9-12 deer in different places in sections two and three.  Megan and I were each using one of my hiking poles to make the going a little easier for us.

The Derrick Tableau lit up at night.

When we got to the last little section before Aid Station 2, Megan didn't think she could walk up the set of stairs.  We told her we were getting her up those stairs if we had to carry her.  Her blisters on her heels were awful, but we got her up the stairs and through the last bit of trail to the aid station.  She was frustrated, because the rest of her felt good, but her feet were slowing her pace to a crawl.

As we walked the last bit of road to the Aid Station, I took the time to look up at the stars and breathe in the air. And got yelled at by Dave and Megan who didn't want me to get hit by a car on the road, as I had turned my headlamp off to look up at the stars.  I turned my lamp back on, and Megan cursed me (because I could still run) as I ran ahead to tell the aid station what was going on.

I kind of stayed back while folks evaluated Megan's feet.  Dan's wife Marley had brought us some cheeseburgers, and I actually had the appetite to eat one(in most races, by hour eighteen I'm only eating gels).  We found out that Dan had dropped and was back at the school, but I enjoyed the cheeseburger in his honor.

Megan made the tough decision to drop from the race, her feet being too painful to wrap adequately to put weight on, and we had nearly 18 miles to go to the finish.  I was a little bleary at this point, and sad that she had to quit, but I changed my shirt and shorts (I was having some chafing issue), and I asked Dave if he was going to keep pacing me, and he was.  I was glad, since I don't do well in the woods alone with only my inner monologue during the night.  I know I hugged Megan and wished her rest and healing as we took off.

The up hills were getting harder, even with poles, but on the flats I was cruising, and I was even trotting on some of the downhills.  I was sleepy, and Dave and I chatted about everything and nothing and wooed and hollered through the valley as we went.  I passed people here and there, and others passed us.

I was tired, and I ached, but it was easy to move forward.  I was enjoying the rustle of the leaves, the wind through the trees, the companionship with my friend, talking easily about work and life, teasing each other, checking in with each other to make sure we were eating and still feeling ok.

I'm not sure all the things I talked about as I wandered through the woods, hugging friends that I sometimes only see during this one weekend of the year, settling into this easy friendship and companionship with people that you might not agree with over the dinner table, but that you can be sister or brother to in the woods on the trail.  It's like the adventure books, being on this journey, and I don't do it well alone.

I don't mind being on my own, but in the woods, I do much better knowing there's someone that I'm depending on, for companionship, than I do arguing with that dark side of me in my head.  Even the quiet moments, the silence was not lonely, not empty.  It was full.

I don't know how to define myself in these moments, but I know I'd be so much less than who and what I am without this crazy community I'm part of.

Relentless forward progress.  And I have great legs, by the way.

We got to the bike trail, then to the school, and I jogged in the last little bit and finished in just under 25 hours.  I hugged the race director, I hugged Dave, and I sat down.  Dave got me hot tea, and we sat and waited for a couple of our friends to finish.  We then found out my good friend, Rog, had taken a bad fall on the trail, and hurt his eye pretty badly and was taken to the hospital.  This shook me quite a bit, and though I cheered some folks in, my head was with my hurt friend.

Roger has been pulling for me, cheering me on and been my running mentor and friend for a number of years now.  We've seen each other during some lows on the trails, and some highs, and I was angry that he was hurt.  Angry at what?  I couldn't tell you.  The trail?  The fact that I couldn't turn back time and make him un-hurt?  Grief is a funny thing, a sort of funny taste and twisting of your stomach.  The part that would have taken his place, that would've fallen instead so he wouldn't have.

We found out that he was ok, but the finish for me was not as joyful knowing that some of my friends were hurt, that some of my friends had to drop from the race.  There's a melancholy in the end of something, even if it was a success. In the struggle, in the pain, even when it's over, there is a little bit of emptiness.

Although the world is full of suffering, it also full of the overcoming of it...

Running this race had a lot to do with me overcoming of my own demons, and being with my good friends through much of it was part of that overcoming.  Thank you to Megan and Dave, and Rob and Dan for being with me for a lot of that journey.  I'm there for you guys, whenever you need it.






Tuesday, August 15, 2017

A Rolling Hrach Gathers No Moss, But Maybe She Should?

There was a video game that came out a while ago, called Katamari Damacy.  You played as this... large rolling ball, and you rolled over things and they stuck to you.  You were gathering pieces of the universe, to put it back together.

The name of the game translates roughly to "Clumped soul," and what are we doing in life, so much as rolling through, gathering the things we want to stick to us, and letting those other things bounce off, or we roll away from those.  Yes, sometimes the bad things stick, but we work on getting those to fall off, or to become smaller, less signifiant.
----

So I spent my weekend with a lot of rocks.  Big ones.  Mountains.

Don't ask me which mountain this was.  I'm not that good.

I took my son, Eli and my younger dog, Joxer.  Zoe spent a few days with friends, and we packed and set out.

Now this was my first post separation vacation.  Just Eli and I.  I was nervous during packing, I was nervous during leaving.  I was nervous in budgeting.  I made some lists, put the mail on hold, took a deep breath, and we drove six and a half hours to a small cabin in the Adirondacks.  I found a pet friendly one, sort of in the middle of the Adirondack park via AirBnB.  It would've been cheaper to just camp, but I wanted to do something nice, and be comfortable, and not worry about the weather.

Turns out this was the perfect choice.  We took our time driving up on Friday, and I packed food to cook while we were there, my own coffee, and all the amenities.  We also took the bikes and paddleboard.

Our little one bedroom cabin.  Home for 4 nights.

The cabin turned out to be perfect.  Tiny kitchen, teeny bathroom, cozy family room, and snug bedroom.  Really, for an adult, a child, and a dog, perfect sized.  No, we couldn't fit in the kitchen at the same time, but since we were spending the majority of our time outside of the cabin doing outdoorsy stuff, it didn't matter how big the space was.  And it was sort of an eye opener on how little space we actually need.

So we explored.  The trails reminded me a lot of the trails I've been on in Central Pennsylvania, but even more technical.  But the views.  I can see why people go there and why people climb mountains.  I was nervous about pushing Eli to climb, and Joxer, but we climbed two very challenging smaller mountains, and we both loved it.  I think the only thing I regret is not sitting up there longer on either to take it in.  It's not like we were up and down right away, but a nine year old is only so patient.

Mount Jo - 2876 feet.

Storm clouds rolling away from mountains in the background from Mount Jo.

Crane Mountain - 3254 feet.  Crane pond in the background.

Relaxing at the summit.

Crane mountain from near the parking area (we still drove down quite a bit)


I learned a lot about myself on this trip.

First, I can do it alone.  And actually, really enjoy it.  I wasn't worried about when we would eat.  I took snacks.  I made dinner when we got back to the cabin, whether it was 5pm, or 8pm.  And no one was grumpy about it.  Eli was happy to swim or watch the Food Network until dinner was ready.  I could have the dog, and he was well behaved and I wasn't stressed about him being well behaved.

Second, I don't have to impress anyone.  Importantly, not my son, who enjoys himself, regardless of my own disappointments in myself.  And Most important, I don't have to impress me.  I can be happy with the little things, like a short walk with the dog and playing in a creek, to watching my son move red efts off the trails.

And last, I'm allowed to be happy, without a partner. Without strings attached or compromises or some kind of conditioning.  Now yes, I had my son and my dog, but I called the shots.  I made the final decisions about what we were doing.  I had a bad day on Sunday, where my "things to do" research went awry, and I was more worried about Eli being disappointed that I let myself focus inward for a while, instead of figuring out a different way to enjoy my time with my son.  So I moped while we were driving away from our failed biking excursion.  It wasn't a long mope, or a deep mope, but it made me realize what I was doing, and that I was waaaayyy more worried about it than he was. It was good to realize, and we still made the best of the rest of the day.

So I'm rolling along, gathering as much as I can, trying to leave behind the stuff that just weighs me down.  And I will be going back to the Adirondacks.