Snippets from an Ultra Race

28 Sep

 

 

My fifth ultra race, and my first ultra relay race, was an unexpected achievement. I expected a lot of unknowns: my team members, my race legs, my ability to run hills and mountains. But instead I found a lot of knowns – with a side of unusual.

The portapotties are a known.  The fact that they don’t smell is unusual. The hills and mountains are a known (thanks to the elevation charts). The fact that I simultaneously hate them (“I can’t do this!”) and love the challenge (“I will do this!”) is unusual. The fact that there are many other teams in this race is a known.  The fact that I become close to other teams and am cheered on by them is unusual.

There is a lot of rain (I get soaked during my first 12 miles) and no sleep (15 minutes in 39 hours) and sporadic meals (Gatorade stops feeling like a treat) and choppy sentences and half-hearted waves at exchange stations and sometimes when I yell “Ultra! Not stopping!” at exchange stations, so the volunteers don’t stop me and look for my teammate, sometimes I feel pride that I am running twice what everyone else is running.  And sometimes I feel sheepish – that I think I can do this – when other, clearly more-in-shape runners – are not attempting it.  And there is also a lot of cheering.  11 teams out of 261 are ultra teams. One is all Moms, one is 3 girls and 3 guys, the other is all guys.  And then there is our “men’s team” with 2 girls to book-end it (I begin the race, Melissa finishes it).  We’re a rarity and we get lots of cheers for it.

But what I notice on this fifth ultra race, this third relay race, is that I enjoy myself.  Despite the lack of sleep and rest, I find myself noticing things.  I notice the turtles in my path during my trail run around the lake.  I notice the way the earth curves upwards during my 2 mile mountainous climb.  I notice the way rivulets of water streak the asphalt during my treacherous and slippery downhill run.  I notice the high school marching band playing (for me?) on the edge of the field at 7AM on a Saturday.  I notice that my legs, the ones that will never be long and lean, have new lines of muscle.  And that there is mud streaked on my calves, mud I don’t recall running through.  I notice that I am grinning (can that be?) and that when I later see videos of myself running towards the exchanges, I am happy.  Very happy.

Even at the moment when the drunks come tumbling out of the bar into the foggy evening and begin harassing me, when I want to say “I have run 23 miles and I have many more to go, leave me alone,” and the staff worker calls “Are you okay?” and later the fellow runner asks “Are you okay?” even then, I find myself thinking “I will be okay.”  Injury, rejection, death, fear, pain, nightmares – I have survived all of you this year. I will continue to survive.

And then when I am done and I cheer the rest of my team and finally put on dry clothes, I wait for the tension to lift – that feeling of nervousness and dread that everyone gets pre-race. And I realize it already lifted.  Maybe during the foggy night crossing the cow fields.  Maybe on that trail when I ran the stone-hewn steps and found a waterfall.  Maybe on the white paint of the road’s shoulder.  Or on the back of the runner in front of me.

30 miles behind me, many more in front of me, I stretch and smile.  I am doing what I love and that is enough.

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