Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Eat Dirt

I imagine that the Jamestown colonists were nervous at their first landing in Virginia, at what is now called First Landing State Park.  That was my destination last Saturday, but I was not nervous at all.  For some reason, I was calm and collected, notwithstanding that I was about to embark on the Seashore Nature Trail 50k.  (A fifty kilometer running race is 31 miles.) 


Maybe I was calm because I knew, unlike the colonists, that I would not starve.  The race promised a food stop about every five miles on the course.  At the first stop, I was pleased to find peanut butter sandwiches, ham and cheese sandwiches, potato chips, and lots of chocolate.  YUM! The trails were so beautiful that when I got to about mile 8, I took a deep breath, glad to be alive, smiled, and looked about at the beauty that surrounded me.


TWAP!   In a second, I felt my toe catch something on the ground, and I was airborne.  I tried to right myself, but no doing.  My knees hit the ground, and let me tell you, they hurt.  I lay there, stunned, for a couple minutes, until a fellow runner came upon me and offered to help. “No thanks, I just need to sit here and feel sorry for myself for a moment.”  I picked myself up and walked a bit, and then tried to run.  My knees hurt so much that I looked down to make sure nothing was broken.  Everything was intact, so I kept going.


Not only was the scenery at this race gorgeous, but the people were so friendly.  At every aid station, I stopped to select food from a large buffet, and had a good chat with the volunteers.  A lady played a guitar at an aid station we passed four times.  At mile 12, a much faster runner passed me going the opposite direction, and he smiled at me.  I was thinking “what a gorgeous smile he had,” when TWAP! I was on the ground again.  My knees.  OWWWW.  I had to go slower because my knees hurt when I ran.  So I would take some more walk breaks to let the pain subside.  And I was slower because, to be honest, I was afraid of falling again!


The race was a two loop race, so at mile 16 you come to the finish line but turn around just short of it and do another loop.  It was about mile 15 or so when I had my third fall.  I walked a bit, cried a bit, and thought about quitting.  But I remembered why I was doing this. I am doing it to raise awareness and funds for cancer research.  Just last week, my best friend’s mother died from lung cancer.  She battled her cancer for over a year—she was diagnosed about the same time my father was diagnosed with leukemia, but lived a year longer than he did.  Another friend has been battling leukemia with treatments at Massey for months now.  And another friend’s husband is dangerously ill, undergoing treatment at Massey for the same kind of leukemia that took my father’s life away last year.  So I rounded the cone near the finish line, and started on my second loop.


I was careful this time, paying attention to the trails and determined not to fall.  About a mile from the turn around, on a bit of an uphill, BLAP!  This time, because I was on a hill, not only my knees got it, but also my chin.  And, I realized, there was dirt in my mouth. A lady I’d met on the course, Kate, came along and instructed me to swish water around in my mouth.  “I love to eat,” I said, “but this is ridiculous!”  She said, “take a deep breath, and don’t worry, you’ll make the cutoffs.”


Cutoffs?  I hadn’t worried about the cutoffs.  I figured I could finish the 50K in about seven hours. But that was before all of these falls.  Now, I was hoping to finish within the cutoff, which was eight hours.  I had to get going.  I even had to hurry through the smorgasbords offered at the aid stations.  When I did eat something, I could tell that there was still dirt in my mouth!


The rest of the race was slow going, a mixture of really slow, careful running and walking through the more technical parts of the race, and worrying that I would not make it.  At mile 26.2, I was plodding along at something like a 15 minute per mile pace, still trying to swig the dirt out of my mouth.  There was a sign saying we had finished a marathon.  Two fellow travelers came along and took a photo of me here.  Just five miles to go.  The ladies said they were going to walk the rest.  They took off, and I walked behind them.  Soon I realized that their walking pace was nearly as fast as my running pace, with the added benefit that my knees didn’t hurt from “run jiggle.”  Plus, I wasn’t risking another fall.  So I power walked those last five miles, and finally swished all the dirt out of my mouth. 


I started the long drive home to Richmond, and stopped on the way back to grab a bite to eat.  I could barely walk, so as I stepped inside, a lady said, “Hey, you look like you ran a 50K race today!”  I said yes, and she explained that she was the guitar lady from the aid station.   She gave me some leftover chocolate from the aid station.  And it didn’t taste like dirt.  YUM! 

I finished in 7:52:40, plenty of time before the 8 hour cutoff.  I ate dirt!  Or, as Clark Griswold once said, “Let's burn some dust here, eat my rubber!” 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Celebrating Three and Ten.

Almost ten years ago, I got off the couch and started an active life.  That didn’t prevent me, however, from hearing the three dreaded words “you have cancer” three years ago.  

I had planned to do my first trail run, the Bear Creek 10 miler, that December, and someone said “I guess you cannot do that; you’ll be in the middle of your radiation treatment.”  That made me mad as hell, so I went out and did the race anyway.  I persuaded a whole bus-load of friends to run the race too. 

So this December, I celebrated ten years of being active, and three years of being cancer free, by running 10 miles three days in a row, including running the Bear Creek 10 miler again, as the first of ten races I'm going to do in the coming year, culminating in a 100K race next September. 

This year, the Bear Creek 10 mile race was so much fun!  When you run on the roads, it can be boring.  Sometimes you just “zone out” and think of other things.  On trails, zoning out leads to falling on your face: you have to concentrate as you run, but at the same time you can enjoy the nature that surrounds you.  At Bear Creek, leaves covered the ground, covering rocks and roots that threatened to make you fall on your face.  Every 100 yards or so, the trail would be impeded by a downed tree.  No matter, runners simply “hop” over the logs.  And the race director had explained that we would encounter five creek crossings.  In reality, because this was an out and back course, we’d encounter creek crossings ten times.  Ten creek crossings in ten miles, so about every mile, we’d go “splash, splash, splash,” through the water.  Water would drain out of my shoes almost completely before the next splash.

I ran most of the race with a new friend, Jen.  She and I made bets on where we’d be when the fastest runner met us on his return to the start.  (This turned out to be at about mile 3.5—so he ran 7 miles in the time it took us to run half that distance).  We bet on how many guys would go past before the first lady.  (Only two).  We were running on single track, so when these fast folks came upon us, we stepped aside to allow them to zip past us.  Everyone in trail races is very friendly, though—even the leaders shouted “way to go, ladies” and “you look fabulous!” At the turn around, a volunteer said “it’s all downhill on the way back.”  We giggled and he said, with a straight face, “but you have to run backwards.”   

The winner of the race finished in 1:19, and the fastest woman finished in 1:22.  WOW.  I finished in 2:48.  Well, you know I got my money’s worth!

On Monday, I ran 10 miles on the roads.  I was running from my house in the park to Meadow Street in the fan, and it occurred to me: what do you find between a park and a meadow?  I decided to run such that my “map” would resemble a flower.  I’ve posted the map.  What do you think?  Well, I guess if I were an artist, I would be a true “starving” artist.

What’s next?  Well, on December 20th, I’m doing another trail race.  This time, it is a 50K.  That is 31 miles.