Monday, December 18, 2017

Beauty and Torture

Well I didn't die.

Not yet.

I mentioned in my last post that I was going to run a 100k on Saturday at midnight (I never know... Is it Friday or Saturday? I should just say Saturday 12:01am). We, um, didn't make it that far. I ran with Chris and Jeff, who are two super awesome dudes. In case you don't know, it's really hard to find people who will volunteer to run an ultra with you at midnight in winter. So the three of us were pretty excited.

Excited that we were all insane.

The weather was actually OK. It was 20. That Friday morning it had been... 1 I think. 1 degree. So it "warmed up." It was snowing. At first I was like, great! Just enough snow to be super pretty. Turns out snow is still snow.

There was a lot of planning leading up to the run. A lot! Logistics of all sorts. We had a number of amazing friends who offered to come help: Lois, Carrie, Julie, and 1 other I believe. They cooked all sorts of yummy things for us. They offered to meet us at our two turn around points with whatever we needed. They offered to pace us. Carrie got a hotel room for the after party. It was to be a grand adventure!

A grand adventure indeed. That's the harbor hotel btw,
where we were supposed to have our epic after party.

I feel bad because all of that flew out the window. On the plus side, I ended up eating most of that delicious food anyway.

I met Chris at the Dandy Mini Mart near Horseheads at 11pm. He's an ultra expert. He had tons of food and water and two large separate bags: One for each end. I.... put two shirts and two pairs of socks into an empty grocery bag and put that into his truck. He dressed like he was venturing on a search for Santa's workshop. I dressed sufficiently... I thought. Chris had a camelbak. I had a water bottle. But it had a strap! So I didn't have to clench my lazy hand. Chris brought sandwiches and things. I had two tiny fruit and chia... things, that I thought looked good. Let me tell you now, they were zero sustenance and lasted 2 minutes.

Although I did bring a bunch of handwarmers I stole from Geoffrey. They were amazing. I grabbed enough to last like 200 hours. What did I wear? My New Balance Leadvilles, which are nice. Warm socks. Long underwear and wind pants which I had bought that day. A compression shirt, a t-shirt above that, and my super warm fuzzy hoody. Warm teal mittens I borrowed from Meghan, stuffed with handwarmers. A headband. A headlamp with dead batteries. Two watches. Didn't need the extra!

All bundled up!

We left Chris's truck and drove to Watkins Glen high school. We sat in my warm car and stared into the night. I didn't actually put on all the stuff I listed above until about 11:50. It required me to get out of my car. Yuck. Jeff showed up near midnight, all ready to go. He was super pro too. We exchanged words. I don't remember what. The types of things that soldiers say to each other right before they go into a battle that probably won't end well.

The ladies were going to meet us there at around 7am. The plan was for us to run 31 miles or so, surviving off our own supplies until our lovely Sherpas brought soup, snacks, and hugs. I thought, 31? I can do 31 at an easy pace. Nooooo problem.

I'm an idiot.

We first ran a mile to the Seneca Lake Harbor. My stomach has been hurting the past few days. I ate A LOT in the week leading up to the run - "carb loading" as the cool kids call it. And my stomach was a disaster. And the rest of me was... not great. But it was beautiful out. And once we actually started moving, most of the stress of anticipation melted away. And running around town... I could pretend that it was just a casual night run, and not a potentially fatal ultra.

We looked out over the water at the harbor for a minute, took some photos. Then we ran back. We paused at the cars again to pee into snowbanks, and so that I could replace the batteries in the headlamp. I only used the headlamp for about a mile before Jeff made an idle remark about how much better it was to run without. That part is true!

We paused again at Shequaga falls. They were frozen and awesome. Some part of me knew that once we hit the Catharine Valley trail all of these beautiful sights would be gone. But still, I basked in the divine night-time beauty. The snow left white trails as it crossed lamps. Everything was quiet. The three of us were animals in the night, rejoicing in our freedom.

I still wasn't feeling great as we ran, though my body settled into it somewhat. I didn't want to complain, and I was committed to the run. We didn't talk very much. Chris told us a couple of stories. I made a couple of random remarks about squirrels and bears. Soon we got onto the trail.

The only other times I've run on the trail were for the Catharine Valley half marathon. It's entirely different in the middle of the night in winter. The elevation was still the same though. It was a steady climb the entire way. And the snow that I thought was so beautiful was suddenly a pain. It wasn't deep, but it was enough for us to slide on every step. I didn't think about it at first, but running up hill in snow sucks up a lot of energy.

Chris's knee was sore because he'd slammed a large piece of furniture against it on Wednesday. He didn't make a big deal about it, but it was tight. Jeff had done a huge amount of traveling the days before, but he was in good spirits. He made fascinating comments about some of the historical landmarks around us. Mostly we ran silently, powering through the miles.

We walked a lot. We alternated. I wasn't sure which was better. When I ran, my stomach bounced and hurt more. When we walked, I got much colder. We were doing about 13 minute miles on average. It didn't feel slow though. And the reality is - in that weather, at night, up hill, with tired bodies - that's still hours you're spending on your feet.

I wish I could say that this part was peaceful and beautiful and liberating. It was just hard. Just plain hard. And I realized that I had been right in my last post: I'm not an ultra-runner. And in other recent posts I've written that I no longer have the desire to punish myself, nor do I feel the need to prove myself any longer. And I felt that. If I had to stop early, it would have no effect on my ego. Even at that point, I knew I wasn't going to run all 62+ miles.

We kept going. We hit parts I'd never been on, then parts Chris hadn't seen, then even parts that Jeff hadn't seen. Jeff told us about a feature of Strava, a sort of heat map that shows where you've run and how much. He was excited that he just added new colors to his map. That was pretty cool. I just checked, but it's part of Strava Premium. And I'm a cheapskate.

This stretch would've made the heat map warmer.

Then we hit the end. We stopped and looked at the map. Chris had been certain that the trail went all the way to the Dandy. But after looking at it again, he realized that the last couple of miles were along the highway. So we had to run along the road to get back to the truck. This part was actually the easiest for me. There was little snow on the pavement. When we finally saw the glowing sign, I felt elated. Nevermind that that was only 1/4 of our planned route.

We stopped. We ate and rested. I changed my shirt and socks for dry ones. They immediately got soaked again. I added a second pair of handwarmers to the mittens. I was shaking badly. I sat in the back of Chris's truck, shivering. He pulled out a chair (a chair!) to sit on so he could change his clothes; super pro, like I said. Jeff went inside the Dandy to warm up, because he's smart. I just kept snacking, and shivering, and drinking water, and shivering more. I was a ball in the seat. The hatch was open, the door was open, and the moonroof was open (for some reason).

We took a long time. A really long time. When it seemed like we were going to get moving again, I txted our Sherpas an updated ETA. I realized Lois was no longer going to be able to see us, because she had kid duties a little later that morning. Of course the ladies were actually all still sleeping, so they wouldn't see the message until later.

Chris told us he was going to drive us to where the trail ended, so we wouldn't have to run on the highway again. That was a relief! If only because it would make the return trip shorter, and I could sit in his warm truck some more. We parked again. We decided to sit and warm up more, to nap a little. It was clear none of us were super excited to get going again. But none of us wanted to be the one to throw in the towel.

We sat there for half an hour, semi-dozing. I sent another updated ETA, almost 2 hours later than what we had originally told our friends. Finally we stirred. We stepped outside. Instantly I felt frozen again. Chris had told us that if we needed to stop, that was totally OK. He asked me what I wanted to do. Like an idiot, I said, "well, I'd at least like to get an ultra out of this, 50k." I thought that maybe because the return trip was downhill it would be easier, and I'd warm up again when we got moving.

Finally, Jeff, the hero, the mayor of everything, the best guy in the universe said, "let's just bag it." Oh sweet Jesus I've never felt so happy in my life. Chris immediately took of his coat. I thanked Jeff for saving my life. We all climbed back into the truck and immediately sped off towards the highschool. I can't describe how jubilant I was.

It was 5am.

I sent an update to the group: Don't come. We're done. Carrie was awake already. She was surprised and concerned. But we were OK. We got back to the high school. We sat there for a little bit, trying to iron out our plans. Chris decided to nap in his truck before driving home; he'd crashed his truck last year after a solo night run and didn't want to chance it. Jeff headed home. I headed to Corning to eat potato and kale soup.

We covered 16.5 miles. My watch says it took 3 hours and 54 minutes. After a lot of napping and eating, I ran later that day with a group of superb ladies, so I got 21 for the day. I was toast.

Couldn't pass up a chance to run with these awesome ladies!
Photo Cr.: Tracy

I've looked on the Beast of Burden website to see if I can downgrade my 100 mile registration for a 50. It doesn't look like I can, so I suppose I'll just run as far as I'm able. I like running. I like running at night. It's beautiful. I like running with friends, love it in fact. But I like to go on runs and then be done. I realized that I don't have the mindset to just go and go and go. Some people do; those people are awesome. I don't.

I can handle pain. I can handle exhaustion. I can handle boredom. But at the same time, I don't need to. I have to compromise between pushing myself, but also actually enjoying what I do.

The Ironman is different. Was different. In fact, I only really felt awful on the run. That 6 hour marathon felt a lot like Saturday's ultra (except worse). The swim I enjoyed, and I enjoy swimming even more today. The bike was long, but it wasn't the same sort of grueling as running. So by the time I got to the run, I was too close to the end to surrender (though I really wanted to).

And that's another thing. Chris mentioned that after he ran Beast of Burden last year, he was trashed for a month. I realize I can't spare a month to rest right in the middle of my Ironman training. I just can't. And I trained with a broken body last year and that sucked, and didn't actually help prepare me at all. I don't know why I thought I could just whip through a 100-miler and jump back into triathlon training. I suppose it's because I thought it would be an "easy" pace. Like walking a 100 miles.

On Saturday I caved after 16.5 miles. I was frozen and broken. And I expect myself to traverse 6 times that length? Of course, I learned some valuable lessons on preparation, nutrition, and dressing appropriately. We all did. But that's not going to make up for an additional 83.5 miles.

A 100 miles it is not.

Those are all excuses. The reality is, it's just not for me. And I have to accept that. I used to hate myself for a realization like that, like I was giving up. Failing. That I wasn't strong enough. But I know now what happens is that I feel awful, force myself to do it, and then I'm ruined for months afterward. It's not worth it. It really totally isn't.

I'll still be on the Erie Canal towpath in February. I'll still run with Chris and Jeff. In fact, I look forward to it. But I won't force myself to go all the way to the end. If for some reason I feel like I'm able to, then great! But I don't have that expectation. I will do it for as long as it feels good and I don't think it's damaging my body. Maybe that'll be 50 miles. Maybe only 30. I don't know. But after I quit, I'll make sure to stick around and help my friends finish. And then celebrate their amazing achievement.

Because that's what it's about in the end: The people. I want to be there, sharing in our mutual passion. To help support them and bask in our awesome humanity. To be part of a driven and loving group who experience life to its fullest. That's amazing. And I want to be amazed.

Thank you for reading.

1 comment:

  1. Wow! Great write-up, Peter! Really amazing. You caught the essence of the run, and the night so well! I actually felt pretty good, which made throwing in the towel easy. I wasn't tired at all, which amazed me. I was so excited to be running with you guys! I thought I was sure I could continue to run, so it didn't matter if I did it or not. I didn't feel compelled to make myself or my friends suffer needlessly and then there were my feet. My feet were soaked! I rarely if ever blister but I know if I had continued, I would blister badly and likely get trench foot! I only wanted to continue in order to not let you guys down. I learned that I need to take advantage of the drop-bags and have new shoes, socks, towels, Bag Balm and more at each location. Because if I need them, I really need them. I'll be better off in future ultras because of this run. Thank you for being there and being a great friend. I too was dissapointed that the next day did go as planned. Those ladies put so much thought and effort into making us feel comfortable and supported. You however, are fun, awesome, awesomeaf, and just a great person who lined up with Chris and me, just because. Just because you are a badass and tough as they come. You can be an ultrarunner if that's what you want to do. If not, it's no big deal. You are more than tough enough for anything! I get the ego thing. I beat myself up a lot, quite often. Even so, I learned a ton from this run. I also was not afraid to toss in the towel when my well being and more important to me, the well being of friends was involved. I look forward to future epic runs with you and Chris as we all move towards achieving epic goals. Thanks for being you! Thanks for being real! Thanks for being my friend. 4REALZ!!