If you're lucky enough to be in the mountains, you are lucky enough.
When something bad happens, you have three choices: let it define you, let it destroy you, or let it strengthen you.
The purpose of life is to discover and develop your gift. The meaning of life comes from sharing your gift with others. - David Viscott
Sunday, March 19, 2006
What do you do when you're injured, lost interest in racing and even running, struggling to find a meaning in life, and on top of it get a letter from your son who is in boarding school for trouble teens, describing in great details about his drug addiction? You buy a pack of cigarettes, load a car and drive yourself through the night, crying to the point of endangering yourself and those around and snacking on sushi from supermarket, to the start of a trail 50k. Well, you might have not done that, but that’s what I did. Sushi turned out the worst of it, but even that felt right, in a twisted kind of way.
I got to the start by 7 am, checked in, popped Excedrin and waited. I saw familiar faces, and had an urge to share the pain. Lisa Bliss was first, we never were close friends, but sometimes intuition works wonders. She was utterly understanding, and insightful. Then Walter comes buy, makes a comment on how I look slim and fit (what a woman needs? I am 10 lbs lighter than last year at Chuck...I just wish I was as fast...), and I talk to him. He is supportive, even if it’s showing in repeating numerous times the “f” word, it comes from the heart...
I line up in the middle of the pack, and off we go. I cover my watch with long sleeves and turn on the I-Pod. I am not in a mood to chat at first, even though for some time I run with Tony P, then Glenn is around. I am quite spaced out. The compartment comes and actually goes away pretty soon. My lungs struggle to find a breathing pattern (no surprise here), but I am moving. I stop at the first aid station, 6 miles in, and refill my bottles. I spend there at least a minute - an eternity for me - but want to keep up with fueling. I am in no rush anyway...
Scott Jurek sends us off to a first climb on trails. It is pretty steep, and I hike, still catching breath. People pass me, some not. I am in the middle of the pack, I belong here, definitely today. I listen to music. As we hit first downhill, I am happily realizing I still got my technical downhill skill, and begin to pass on many. It is fun to fly down fast, jumping around roots and rocks and twisted turns. I am so enjoying it! Then we turn onto a dirt road up, up, up. I catch up with Walter and remind him how last year we were together at the very same point. I begin to feel stronger, but don’t push to extent. Little flat section proves to be my worst, as usual, but I shuffle. There is one thing you can be sure about when you wear Montrail shirt - you'll be taken tons of pictures of at every turn and aid station:)Finally toping off, I see Jurek, John Pearch and Jamshid Kajavi. Jamshid is one great person, crazy guy with some Guiness records in him, and very supportive in ultra community. My I-Pod suddenly went dead, but somehow I don’t care today. I am OK with silence. One more compliment - aw, so nice - and we’re off to my favorite trail section on the ridge. It’s a single track, very narrow, very technical, rolling, in a dense woods. I am in love with this section - despite that many complain about it. Without trying hard, I pass at least 10 people. I hang behind one girl, I could have get by her too, but it feels right, even when at times feels like we’re walking. I even stop at a couple of points to inhale views on near-by mountains. I didn’t last year.
As the ridge comes to an end, something’s wrong with my stomach. All I can think about is eyeing the bushes picking the best spot. Stupid sushi, or is it stress-related? At first I get upset for the fact I need to stop, but by second one (and there were at least 7 jumps to the side of the trail, and I can say I know this forest inside out now) I kind of enjoy it. Weird...but those little squatting (pardon my details) are what I need too. The sun is nice, the day is gorgeous. I don’t care how much time I loose. I actually feel pretty strong and pass all who get by me on my breaks.
Long section around a lake, muddy, with slow inclines/flats and some declines. The eefct of Excedrin wore off and my back and hamstring are screaming. This one was the worst, as I pop more pain killers and wait for it to start kicking. I walk awkward, but it’s nice to know today is not the day to be mad about it. One more stop - and we are at the bottom of Chinscraper climb. Many resent it. I am a good climber, I hike up, pushing it, and pass another dozen people. For a bit I go with Diana Robinson, and she is such a joy at running. I am first in our long choo-choo train, and the guy behind thanks me for pulling him up. At least I am useful for something today...
We top with the aid station and get ready for a 4 miles of downhill, mostly on dirt road. I wonder if my guts will hold on to me without splashing, so don’t run too fast, yet again, it’s surprising how many people slow down even on non-technical downhills (albeit quite steep). I pass them, thanking my big and ugly quads - they can take the pounding. Mid-point there are Jamshid, Lisa Bliss and Scott Jurek showing the turn, and I stop to hang with them for a minute. It is warm in the sun, and I wish I didn’t have to leave them, but they send me off. OK, I guess it’s an event. It feels like a good run though. Bottom of the hill - last aid station with a REAL toilet! It’s a treat I couldn’t pass on:) As I get out I make sure to load on a couple of gels - last year I sped by and bonked hard on the last 6 mile. The usual group passed me, yet I catch them again. I am not bonking this year, it’s a good thing. I shuffle on. Did I mention how much I hate (with a capital H) this stretch? It’s a dirt/gravel wide road, flat as can be, long straight forward and annoying as hell. I am not a flat runner. Last pain killers were taken 2 hrs ago, and the pain is back. But I feel OK in my body and continue on. One woman passes me, I hang for a bit, then decide to take a walk break. It hurts more when I walk, so I get back to shuffle. I don’t know what time is it, though my watch beeps on an hour, and I heard it as I left the aid station. I figure it’s been 5 hrs on the run. Interesting, I want to get it over with because of the pain, but I don’t want it to end. I almost want to slow down and drag this race longer. It is nice not to think about turmoil in the family. No, not that. I constantly think about it, but in a calm kind of way. Putting one foot in front of another is more important at this point. So I can think of other troubles without been overwhelmed. I catch with two guys, and they talk about breaking 6 hrs. How funny. Last year I ran it in 5:22. I am peaceful. It’s a horrible 50k time for me, but I am not even sure I want to push. I just want this flat stretch to end:) I hear another beep as I make the final turn. I wonder if the race started on time and actually make an effort. I see the clock...5:59...seconds clicking. Lisa Bliss yells - yay for running under 6:01! I laugh. Wonderful people, ultra runners. They don’t say - sucker, didn’t break 6, they say - great job for making in 6:00:09. I cross the finish line with a wide smile.
A few more visits to the bathroom, a clothes change, a pile of food (oh, the food at the finish of an ultra!!!) - I sit on a grass talking. Lisa again, Jamshid. Tony C, Tony P. People, people everywhere. Dear to my heart faces. My Family. I am happy, even if for a moment, even as I share my struggles. Support. Support and understanding. Smiles. Sharing back their stories. Talking about races. Injuries. Runs. Holding hands. Hugging. Sun is making the day brighter. Or is it sun?
I drive away, to Longview, to see Rob at PacRim 24. I can’t sit comfortable, I am out of pain killers, I have to roll some clothes and stick it under my back and under the connection of hip joints and hamstrings. It helps only little, so I cringe and let out cuss at times. I lit up another cigarette, but don’t really want to smoke anymore - just holding it. I guess it’s a good sign...My eyes are almost closed and I am drained, so I stop at the rest area and sit in a car for a few minutes while talking to Sid, Gail’s husband. I tell him - I had a horrible race. Horrible. But a wonderful run. I am an Ultra runner. I am in love with it. In love with trails, twist, rocks, roots, turns, ups and downs. RDs and volunteers. Sun and rain. Simple motion. People. PEOPLE. It’s OK I am in no state to race. I had rediscovered the joy. I am still going to do that. It feels right, mine, belonging. I am back...
I make it to Rob just as he finishes. He has pain in his shins and bails at 50 miles. Perfect decision. Why struggle? What to prove and to whom? We sit and chat. I really love this guy. He doesn’t say much, but it feels right. I can say anything to him. And I do. And he listens. We remember last year. We both had a great year of racing. Even on those days when it was meant to be a training run - we posted fantastic times. This year is different. I had high hopes for it. The heart is not in it? Why are we so injured? Are we paying back? Or is it simply life, with its peaks and valleys? White stripe, black stripe...we will go on.
Today is a beautiful day, warm and sunny. We have a saying - at night all cats are black. It’s morning. I have a pulled quad (probably due to trying to avoid pain in hamstring), but that’s OK. I’ll take time off, I may not push in races for awhile, I may volunteer more than participate - but I will stay with my family of ultra runners. I have a letter from my son in front of me. But I focus on the last paragraph. “I guess it’s a good thing you sent me here. I did stupid things and need to change. I love you guys and I miss you”. And I cry...
p.s. It was my "marathon and ultra" number 50. I totally forgot.