I had conveniently forgotten I volunteered to work packet pickup for Psycho Psummer - my first ultra attempt. A 50K (31+ miles) trail run at Wyandotte County State Park. So when I got the email reminding me, I was perturbed. I have no idea why I can't just go with the flow. So I show up, assuming it's going to suck because it wasn't what I had planned for that evening. Of course I was wrong and of course I had alot of fun and was even useful. I tried to keep my mouth somewhat shut and my ears open. Bad Ben was there talking to alot of experienced ultrarunners, so good ultra strategy tips were there for my gleaning. I will not be sharing any of them here - yes I am that juvenile and petty. OK - just one. Eat early and eat often. . before the heat really starts. That's really like two in one - I am becoming more altruistic every day.
I got out to the race early and got my usual parking spot in front of the bathrooms at the Ranger Station. You don't know how comforting that little thing was. I trained fairly well for this race, I guess (who knows) -- alot of running in general, and more running out at WYCO than ever, which was good. Just not enough long runs, which is always the case. My last long run was the Monday before the race - me and Elliot the Magnificent Hound dog did 22.5 miles around the neighborhood. Then I did some cross training Tuesday and took the rest of the week off. Whatever - it was what it was. Stuffing shirts in bags race morning helped so much to take my mind off the race. Had I been left to my own devices, I would have been just wandering around the start area, anxious as hell, muttering to myself. That's the usual M.O. anyway.
Race starts. I've learned to hang back and that way not get as humiliated by everyone passing me (and making them mad 'cause slow people should know their place). I thought I learned to hang back and not go out to fast, but I guess not. I KNEW I was going too fast, but didn't actually do anything about it, like maybe slow down a little. The first loop was unremarkable. (The race is two 15.5 mile loops, lots of hills, lots of obstacles, never get good footing for the roots and ruts and rocks and fallen trees to climb over, duck under and navigate by whatever the hell else is out there in that humid jungle). Unremarkable except what I picked up at the aid station at mile 5ish - they had nutella in tortillas. I thought it was peanut butter and jelly in a tortilla. I grabbed one and waited until I was at the bottom of a hill to eat it (another good tip I overheard Bad Ben say -- that's it - no more tips to you for free!). I bit into it and realized it was Nutella. The only times I have ever eaten Nutella is when I would bake my pot into it and have graham cracker/nutella/pot snacks. It was just kind of surprising and a bit disconcerting 'cause I immediately went back in time and place to then and that's not exactly what I was expecting. I also realized I really don't like nutella without the ganja.
Oh yeah - Levi. I ran the Hawk Marathon in Lawrence in May. At a water crossing at about Mile 19, I was pulled underwater (I really did not expect tidal waves at a lake!!) and my ipod died. I was pissed. I was really pissed at the guy on the other side of the water crossing, watching it all and yakking on his goddamn cell phone. (I now know he was telling the race director to change the course 'cause it was too dangerous). When I finally drug my sorry ass out of the water, the jackass on the cell phone (who is Levi and who is apparently some really nice guy) said - "You'll be glad to know you're the last one to have to do this. . . they re-routed the course". Rather than throw a big fit over the injustice of it all, I told him I wanted to punch him in his face, and then ran off.
So pretty early on in the first loop, Jon Kevern and some guy go flying by me and the other guy mentions a water crossing. I didn't recognize him, but I asked if he was Levi. Yep. So I was able to apologize for telling him I wanted to punch him in his face. I guess the apology wasn't necessary because Levi let me know that "no offense, but you're not that scary". I saw him again about halfway thru the second loop - he was doubled over with stomach issues. But when I came up on him, he straightened up to let me know that he was just faking it to psych me out. Then we ran together for a bit and talked and he said something about the water crossing and he thought I weighed 95 lbs. For that, Levi is my new best friend. To set the record straight though, it's 95 lbs plus 35. After my morning poo.
I guess the 1st loop wasn't as unremarkable as I thought. Coming out of the boy scout section I met Jennifer from St. Louis - her last name rhymes with Maserati. Here we are - she's right behind me in the white shirt.
We stuck together until almost the end of the first loop - she kinda got stuck in the mud. There was a Jen running with us too at the end of the 1st loop. They both commented on the mud. I kept my mouth shut. That was lame mud. I quietly felt so superior because I KNOW mud. WYCO has given me intimate knowledge of mud and bits of my soul are out there, stolen by the mud. But I digress. Jennifer was supernice and what a breath a fresh air and I am so glad I met her and we got to run together.
So 1st loop was in the bag at 3 hrs and 42 min. I did it about 20 min slower than last year, but no worries. I did not have a time goal (well, I wanted to be done by nightfall). I had my usual long trail run goal of finishing without crying, but after the 1st loop, my goal was just to finish. As soon as I re-entered the trail for the 2nd loop, I realized that everything hurt. Every step hurt. My back hurt, my legs hurt, and my feet hurt the most. But it's true what they say - you just ignore the pain and keep going. I am convinced we are all much tougher than we give ourselves credit for. I was digging the music, digging the day, but every step was wearing me down. About halfway thru I was beginning to really doubt my chances. I never seriously considered giving up - but I did consider walking the last 10 miles and was not happy with that idea. Luckily, Jennifer came to the rescue once again.
I met up with her again somewhere on the second loop, I think at the aid station at Mile 10ish (well 20ish now). I was so happy to see her (I'm usually just happy to see my boyfriend and my dog, and even them not all the time) I couldn't believe it -- she gave me the second wind I needed. I don't even remember half of what she said, but she was just chatting away and I was digging it 'cause it was keeping my mind off everything. Until the boy scout part. She had gone on ahead so I was solo again. I swear that part tripled in length from the first time. There are tons of switchbacks, and its a part I never run. I kept thinking that "just after the next turn" I would be on the merged part heading back out, but that didn't happen for an eternity. I have found that in the long runs, I want them to be over long before they are, so I spend the last hour (or two) totally frustrated that I still have so far to go, wanting it to be over, and hating it. So far that hadn't happened on this race, but it was beginning to. 8 years later, I finally got out of the boy scout part. Not far to the triangle, and that went quickly. Only 2 more miles to go and I'm done.
Then it happened again. I remembered there were water jugs after .8 miles, with signs saying only 1.2 miles to the finish. I kept going (not really running very much) and was convinced that the jugs were already taken away because I had gone 2 miles already and why wasn't I done? Some guy was coming up behind me. I stepped aside and told him to go on. Instead of quietly passing me with a grunt, which is expected, he said "nuh uh. you've been ahead of me this far - you're not stopping now". I told him I was running on empty and to go ahead. He continued to protest - "No you're not" and refused to leapfrog me. I said "Goddamn you!" and started running (he just chuckled). I don't know why I'm so surprised when people don't listen to me and don't do what I say - nobody ever does. Anyway, that guy (Terry Rider is his name - I just looked it up) stuck behind me the rest of the way in - those water jugs finally came up and I'm telling you, it was alot more that .8 miles. I would swear to it. Anyway, Terry could have so passed me and got a much better time, but he didn't. I tried to ignore him, but I felt obligated to run as much as possible for his sake. Once again, Goddamn you Terry Rider -- and thank you SO MUCH!!! You don't know how much you helped me not only finish, but finish with my head high. My mom took this pic - he is laughing at me 'cause I just announced that I would now be crying.
Coming out of the trail at the end is indescribable. If you run it, you know exactly what I mean. E L A T I O N. Just down a grassy hill, over a bridge and you're done. Well, Terry and I also had to navigate thru a crapzillion honking geese. I think he was honking back at them -- I'm not sure, the whole thing was surreal. At the bridge waiting were my mom and Brian. My dad had gone exploring some off-limits part of the park, but I knew he wasn't far. :)
I saw them and all I could do was tell them I was going to cry as I passed. Then I started blubbering, but I was choking back the tears. I'm telling you, it is quite difficult to choke back tears, closing your throat at 31 miles. I got across the finish line, but by the time Ben put the medal around my pretty little neck, I was about to fall out. Throw in my wheezy, catchy, almost guttural breathing and I was a shoe-in for the creature on the SciFi channel's weekend movie lineup. Then Sophia and Jennifer (who had finished 7 minutes before because she is ultrarunner extraordinaire)came up to me and I had to walk away because at times like these, if people are nice to me, I really cry. I was having a bit of trouble just breathing, much less some heavy emotional sobbing. My first ultra was in the bag. It took me awhile to feel anywhere close to normal, but our little bodies are remarkable and 2 days later, I just have a couple of pretty-sore quads, and some chafing issues which are best not made pubic, I mean public.
Sum up - I finished in 8 hrs, 27 minutes. It took me an hour longer to do the second loop than the first. I must learn to pace myself! 112 started the 50K, 69 finished. Of the 69, only 10 were girls. Everyone that was out there running or helping or supporting that day ROCKS!! But I have a special affinity for us 10 girls. We rock hard.
It's not just about running really far - it's not surprising that pushing your body to its limit impacts your spirit. It's very empowering. You challenge yourself, raise the bar out of reach, but manage to grab it anyway. You become your own inspiration.
What surprises me is the comraderie and spirit of it all. These experiences are what an amazing life is made of. This is living. And it's the Jennifers and the Terrys and the Levis and the Sophias and Bens (well, there's only one Sophia and one Ben!!) It's nothing if not shared. Amazing. Every last one. The end.