SIPPY CUPS AND OATMEAL

It’s amazing what bodies can do when you push them. Before Saturday, I had never run more than 22 miles at one time and by Sunday morning I had run a total of 48. I don’t think I’ll ever be quite the same.
I’ve done over a hundred races in the last three years. I am not exaggerating when I say that No Yo Momma’s was, hands down, the most life-altering race I have done. (Not to mention the hardest to return from.) Answering emails regarding the Ohio Revised Code Monday morning made me want to throw my laptop between cubicles and shout, “DON’T YOU UNDERSTAND, NONE OF THIS MEANS ANYTHING!” Lucky for my coworkers, I was too exhausted to lift anything.
We arrived Friday night at Great Seal State Park to set up camp. We were all nervous, crew included. We wolfed down some Chipotle and pretended to go to sleep around 8:30. No one was sleeping.
Saturday morning, 5:30 am, the 100 mile and 100 kilometer folks took off in a rather unshowy, uncelebrated march to the trailhead. I told myself I’d sleep for a few hours before my race, but that was just silly.
7:30 am, the 25 and 50k races went off with the sun just coming up over the Appalachian Foothills. It was a crisp, perfect morning and it was about to be a long, perfect run. I paced the first lap with Morgan Green, who is unequivocally the kindest and most enthusiastic champion of female runners I have ever met. Mile 10, something magical happened. I had hopped on a little choo choo train of about four or five runners. Just for fun, they asked at the aide station who was leading the 50k race. “She is”, a woman holding a clipboard in a baseball hat pointed to me. My little troupe looked and me, astonished. “Well, shit, put that down and let’s go”. I dropped half a dill pickle in a trash can and we hit the trail with renewed zeal.
Morgan made a blast for it at the end of our 16 mile loop. She was done for the day. But I was lucky to have a dedicated group of three guys from the Roots and Rocks gang flanking me on the single track. Travis, a shirtless, tattooed guy people call “Motormouth”, said to me, “I don’t care if we have to carry you, you’re gonna win this race.” Well, with that kind of attitude, who could say no?
About mile 20 or so, I saw Annie. At nearly six foot, and donning a hot pink hat, she’s kind of easy to spot. I shrieked and flew ahead. The guys in my little train already knew who she was, and that she was out on a much longer journey than us. We kept her company for about a mile or so, then she, very wisely, dropped off. She smacked my butt, hard, and whooped, “Go get ‘em, girl!”. We trudged on.
“Smart, very smart of her not to push.” One of the guys said, gravely.
The three men I ran with are all married with kids. So, I’ll go ahead and guess that trail time is their time to squeeze out just about every cuss word known to man, sing death metal and make fun of each other. When you are bound to a domestic life, I can see how running in the woods with a group of dudes could be cathartic. Me? I’m without any of these domestic trappings, I cuss like a sailor daily and enjoy endless freedom, but I revel in their cavalier use of motherfucker just the same.
I thought the last half of the last lap would be hard. But it was more fun than anything. I spent all summer training for this and I never felt more ready. I mowed down a grilled cheese, chugged two shots of pickle juice and a cold coke at the last aide station and we prepared ourselves for the victory 5k. The pain finally kicked in good with two miles to go, IT band, Achilles, arches of my feet, quads; the whole mess of it. Travis kept my brain busy with a little story I like to call, “Fuck the Boston Marathon”. It was perfect for keeping my mind off the pain. Brendan kicked it into high gear with a mile to go. Just two climbs left. We hit the pavement, just three of us. We lost one of our men to leg cramps and a good tumble. But those of us still together, came in three-wide for a joyous finish.
There in 80 degree sun, surrounded by new friends, I marveled the first trophy I have ever received in my life. I didn’t grow up an athlete. I never pushed myself at anything. And I had just won a 50 kilometer race on an undeniably difficult course. This was truly a magic moment for me.
PART II, THE HARD PART
After the fanfare, I got to hang out for a few hours, roll my legs out, call family and drink nearly a half gallon of chocolate milk. The crew was talking logistics for who would be pacing Annie on her three final 16 mile laps of her 100 mile race. Her husband, Andy, had been suffering recently from quite a few debilitating injuries. We were worried about him going out there. He told me he was going to pace her for the entire 5th lap. Everyone knew better than to step to him. When the woman you love is out doing the most challenging race of her life, wild horses will not tear you away from coming to her aid. He was going to step up to the plate no matter what we said. And man, did he knock it out of the park. Andy dug deep and kept her right on pace for five hours in the dark.
I was told I would be pacing for the 6th and second-to-last lap. We calculated she would be coming in around 1:30am. When I got this news, it was about 8:30pm. I got in my hideous vintage tent and slept for three hours. I have to admit, dear reader, when I lay down in that tent, I don’t know that I really believed I was getting back up. I thought I might somehow shirk my responsibility by claiming that I was overtired or too sore. But when my alarm went off at 12:15am, I put on some dry clothes and hobbled out of my tent. I was grumpy. I was in pain. And I was not ready to help anyone achieve victory. I looked at Annie’s sister. She was bundled next to the fire, reclined in her chair, refusing sleep, at her post like an unfaltering woman of the Night Watch, keeping herself awake by puffing an e cigarette.
A man I would later come to know as Nick was standing by the fire, a volunteer. In my haze, I didn’t even introduce myself. With little to no prompting, he took my pack, filled it with water, brought me soup and coffee and asked what else he could do to get me ready. I just kind of grunted at him. What an asshole!
But when Annie came in to the camp, everything changed. You’ve heard the stories about mothers being able to pick up cars to free children stuck under them because of sheer adrenaline? Well, I was about to pick up a car. Annie was pale; her teeth were chattering a little, she was covered in sweat. She sat down to have her feet rubbed by the fire. Annie had trained here, at Great Seal all summer, and I had accompanied her for a small chunk of it. No one put more miles in on the course. I wanted her to finish. I wanted her to win. And a damn sore knee and a bad nap weren’t going to get in the way.
We hit the trail around 2 am. Already the adrenaline had kicked in. I felt super-alive; extra-alive. SO ALIVE. We hoofed along, sang all the lyrics we knew to every bad 90’s song, and named sections of the trail at our whim (Visit horsepoop beach sometime, it’s really quite lovely). We got about six miles in to the loop, and at the top of a hill, about to descend; Annie whipped around at me and grabbed my arm. It was Nicole, the woman who had been in first place for several laps. With a wordless whoosh, Annie was gone. I knew what she had to do. In my condition, I was less than able to oblige her newfound crazy meth-head pace. So I clown footed along with my hydration pack on my back and Annie’s strapped to my front. As I passed Nicole and her two pacers, hydration hoses smacked me in the face, I jogged merrily on. “Good job!” I hollered as we descended just before the road crossing. By the time I caught up to Annie, I thought I might puke. Who knows how she found the strength to sprint for an entire mile after running 80, but she did. The highlight of our lap was most certainly the aide stations. An utterly devout male volunteer at Aide 2 saw that we had dropped a banana on the way out of the station. He ran to us with a fresh one. “NEVER GO BACKWARDS ON THE COURSE. I WILL BRING ONE TO YOU”. I mean a real gem.
By mile 10 I was in a good amount of pain. But I was so filled with joy and GU, it didn’t really matter. When we hit the pavement (about a mile from the lap line) I called in Annie’s food requests by cell phone like a weary but dedicated sea captain calling to port. “FOUR SHOT BLOCKS, 4 GUS, TWO COLD ENSURES…”
And then we turned on the Footloose. Remember the angry dance barn-scene? Yeah, we did it. Well, I did it while Annie hoofed along. I felt like I had been at a rave for four days. I pranced merrily alongside her with all the fervor of someone on a pound of cocaine. When we got back in, she was still singing and pumping her fists in the air. One more to go for her, but I was out. I thought I’d just hit the hay for the duration of her last lap. I think I made a mistake in doing so. I got into my dew-covered brown tent and put sweats on. I didn’t really even notice that my entire blanket was also wet. I woke up 45 minutes later, shaking violently and feeling completely dissociative. I went to get in the RV. Annie’s sister followed me in; she could tell something was wrong. I headed for the bathroom, but before I could go in, she looked me in the eyes, “Something is wrong.” I exploded into violent tears. My whole body was vibrating. I was cold, wet, tired, and I had run 48 miles in 24 hours. I can understand why my body would do this, but it didn’t make it any less terrifying. Other than maybe overdosing on drugs, I cannot really describe how my whole body just broke down. I got in the shower of the RV to bring up my body temperature. I just couldn’t stop sobbing. I wasn’t sad, I wasn’t even feeling particularly emotional, I just couldn’t stop. After Annie’s sister helped me with my clothes, she wrapped me in a blanket and turned on a space heater near me. She massaged my feet while Annie’s husband, Andy, brought me oatmeal to eat. Can you believe these people?
Moments ago, I had been flashdancing. And now I am being fed oatmeal, wrapped in swaddling clothing and I’m drinking Gatorade from a sippy cup because I was shaking so hard I couldn’t do anything but splash it all over my face. Ah, the glory of being an athlete.
I returned to my mostly normal self after Andy talked me off the edge, explaining that this had happened to him at a 24 hour race. After the insanity subsided, they put me in a bed of the RV. All I could do was lay, eyes open, heart pounding, waiting for Annie to finish. I went and sat at a picnic table near the finish line and talked to a few of the other hundred milers. They could see I was losing my mind. It was obvious that the whole crew wanted everyone to finish, but equally obvious that Annie was the sweetheart of the day.
When Annie came across that line, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. I couldn’t mask it. I was beside myself. I am truly in awe of that woman. She did something that seemed impossible. And she made me believe that I could do the same. We barely knew each other before this summer, and now I can say confidently, that she is one of my dearest friends. I don’t know how to thank her for letting me share this awesome experience. For the time being, this post is the best I can do.
This weekend oscillated wildly from the elation of feeling like a real athlete to being completely helpless and covered in oatmeal. I wouldn’t give it back for anything.annie

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APOLOGIES TO ORNITHOLOGISTS

I didn’t grow up in a place where there was much value
Placed on knowing the names of birds
The suburbs were a place to
Collect the most Nerf balls
Own the best slap bracelet
Know all the players for the Cleveland Indians

Now, older and more likely to find myself in the woods
I wonder
If having an ability to catalog
Everything you see
Makes the experience more rich
So I test it out
A tiny bird with a brown vest and a dapper little hat
Is sneaking on the path behind me
I proclaim him the Beige Throated Warbler
A stick thwarts me in the eye, to punish
So far no good

I hear a minuet of competing chirps overhead
Squint hard
See only brown blobs
I proclaim them Pestering Cuckoos
“Thrush Whistler”
“Wagtails and pippets”, these are real birds, my smartphone tells me
So I go with less conventional stuff
One hard “caw” shoots at me from the left
“FERNANDO”, I shout at him
He hops tow inches down the branch
Oh yeah, that does feel good

DRUNK RUN

Last night
Was the last time
That I’ll go running while drunk
We ran a mile
As hard as we could
And it wasn’t as fast as we thought it would be
Big fucking surprise
We ran on the rail road tracks
Not even trying to strike on the beams
Just wildly stomping
Gravel and garbage
In moon light
And I want you to know
That I didn’t make this up for a poem
And I want you to know
That it wasn’t romantic
But it was wild
And that’s something
I don’t want to stop being