Friday, April 25, 2014

Astute Conversations With Myself.

Thirsty after a long run, I stopped into the store on my way home. At the checkout line, the clerk asked if I was a runner. Either he was psychic or my muddied calves, large GPS watch, and synthetic clothing gave me away. Whichever it was, I confirmed his assumption, hoping that he wouldn't ask about what I run. Standing in a busy checkout line at the store is a less than ideal place to explain the who/what/when/where and whys of ultra running. But my train of thought was cut off when he said, "You don't run those crazy races. You know. Like Leadville." Well yes, I do run ultras, but no I have not run the Leadville 100. "Man!! That's crazy. I just don't know how you people do it. I'd never be able to run that long!" In an effort to move the line along and get my drink faster, I quickly told him that anyone can run an ultra. It's fun! And with that we both laughed a little and I hurried back home. 

As I was driving home I realized that I should have put an asterisk next to the "It's fun!" claim I made. It's not always fun. Images and memories of my last race flashed between my ears, making me cringe and drive significantly faster. I thought I should go back and tell that guy the truth, but realized that the damage was done (and I'd rather be at home). So in an attempt to redeem myself, below are thoughts that ensued during my last race. Let these serve as my asterisk.  

The Damage

Warm up: It's not a good sign if carrying my water bottle on the warm up makes my bicep feel like a substance closely related to that of jello pudding.

4km-10km: Wee! These hills are fun! Just like home in Colorado!

Warner's Wall: This is a stupidly steep downhill. In fact, it's borderline dangerous. Look! I'm getting rocks in my shoes. I'm not enjoying this at all. This section is stupid. Maybe I'm just hungry. Eating makes everything seem better.

15.5km: Eating has not improved the situation. A rapid decline in physical and mental (st)ability is noted.

17km: Something bit my ankle. God damnit. I wasn't looking around for snakes, I don't think I saw one, but what else would bite me? Oh god. My leg is tingling. It's definitely, wait let me check, yes definitely swelling slightly. I don't know what the symptoms are for Tiger Snake bites. Shit. I should have researched that. I wonder what happens now? Surely I'll pass out soon. Those saps that just passed me or maybe the gentlemen with congested lungs behind me will carry my lifeless (perhaps convulsing?) body to the next aid station. Which sounds horrible...for them. I think it's quite a trek from here, but I won't have to deal with that. I'll be incapacitated and frothing at the mouth, trying to say something meaningful and courageous in my last few moments. Jesus, I think my leg is going numb. How much time has passed since the snake bit me? Why the hell is it taking so long for congested lungs man to pass me? I should ask him if he spotted a snake on the trail. Who am I kidding? Stop lying to yourself. You know a shitty little ant bit you. Are you really going to let an ant take you out of this race? Well..I mean, if my leg got bad enough... Oh come ON! You're the moron who didn't train. The one who, at the last minute, decided to switch from the marathon to the 75k. Why? Oh because everyone else is running the 75k and you didn't want to be a party pooper. New flash dummy, you won't be much of party animal after this little jaunt.

(Incoherent thoughts. Several lyrics of Miley Cyrus songs on a loop in brain. Obviously at a low functioning mental state. Just the essentials now.)

25km: I hate running. I honestly hate it. I'm never going to do this again. Ever. No, not even if someone offered me like $5,000. Maybe for a million. I don't know. It's a tough call. Fuck it. I'm walking this 10k hill. "Do you want to pass me?" ("No, I'm fine.") Humph. Just pass me, man. I'm not going to go any faster. In fact, I'm going to slow down. Maybe I'm just hungry. No. There is no amount of food that will make up for poor training.
If I keep eating things are bound to improve.

29ish km: Oh look its Dakota. Ass hole. Running. Pfh. Who does he think he is. "Good job!! I love you!!" No I don't. I don't love you at all right now. You jerk. This is somehow, someway, your fault... and I've got the next several hours to find a way to blame this situation I'm in on you. muhahahahaa

34.5km: Aid station. Lots of people. Pretend you are enjoying yourself.

37ish km: What is this crap? I have to finagle my way through that chimney of rock? Maybe I'll get stuck and I won't have to run anymore. Also, I hate stairs. I'm not looking forward to going up or down any of those again.

42km: I'm simply smiling and cheering on everyone else because I'm elated that a) I'm seeing people in just as much pain as myself b) I'm further along than these folks c) which means I'm that much closer to being done and d) it's downhill for the next 10km.


44km: Truly regretting my excitement for downhill. Fairly certain that my quads are legitimately tearing away from the bone.

 46km: What if I lied and said that I was peeing blood. Kidney failure is a totally justifiable reason for dropping. If it were true.  But no one would know I lied about it. What sicko would lie about it? True. And then I'd have to lie about the whole kidney failure thing for like.. the rest of my life. Would I have to lie about it on new patient forms at doctors offices? Maybe. Definitely if I'm with someone from the race. I think I have a migraine. I could probably quit because of a migraine. It's pain that no one can see or question. I'll let that excuse marinate a little longer.

60.5km: I've taken up buddhism. Obviously in Samsara, a cyclical state where I'm grasping and fixating on myself and my experiences. I've come to this point from ignorance (avidaya) and am now going through dukkha: suffering, anxiety and dissatisfaction. It won't be long now. Actually. I have no idea what I'm talking about.

63km: If I convert kilometers to miles, do I lose or gain distance?  "Warner's Wall." Goddamnit. I hate Marcus Warner for this. I'm giving him the silent treatment for here on out. This stupid wall and it's stupid uphill-ness. I'd sit here and pout if there were someone near me to ask why I'm upset.

65km: I hate downhills more. I can literally feel the blisters under my toenails smashing into the front of my shoes.

67.6km: I think "Mick's Track" was removed from the course. Maybe the race director realized that going back up that hellacious hill was an unsound idea. Oh thank god. There is no way I could deal with that right now.

68km: "Mick's Track." I never liked that Mick character anyway. Yea, I thought I did, but nope. Add him to the silent treatment list.

(L-R: Myself, Dakota and Mick. Him and his stupid hill.)

71km: ohmygod.I'mgoingtorunallofthis. I don't care if my quads literally and/or figuratively snap away from the bone and land on the ground.

75.5km: Finishline.JesusHChrist. Put me in that river. I need to cleanse away all that has just happened. I don't care about anything other than sitting down. What? No, I don't want to party. I want a hot shower and a do over.

Carnage. My foot and Clarke's.

It has been twenty days since I "ran" the Buffalo Stampede. Memory, with time as it's cunning accomplice, has tricked my mind. Now that some time has lapsed, when people ask me about the race, about whether or not I had a good time, I can't quite figure out the answer. I stumble over my thoughts, words, landing on something like, "Yea.. I think I had a good time. Well I mean, I got through the race." I say things like that as if I only slightly struggled. In a very Freudian way, time is slowly changing my view on the whole ordeal, perhaps in an effort protect myself. With ultras (Let's not extrapolate to other life situations, please.)  it is sometimes best to repress painful experiences because if we accurately remembered these races like the one described above, no one would run such long distances.

So why write down the painful experience, this pseudo guilt prompted asterisk? I didn't write the above as a race report that tells a story of someone who struggled, over came many obstacles and finished with a better sense of self in hopes of inspiring someone. No, I wrote this to serve as a 'gentle' reminder to myself and perhaps a slight warning to others, to not believe everything you hear. Especially when you hear someone say, "Of course you can run an ultra! Anyone can!! It's fun!" It's not that they are lying, its just that they don't remember the truth.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Pre Race Meeting

This Sunday Dakota is racing in 4 Refugios, an ultra race in Argentina. Things seem to be run a little differently down there, so below I've written how I imagine the race to be organized..

Welcome to the 4 Ref 2014 pre race conference. This entire conference will be given in Spanish, so for those of you not fluent in the language, I hope you have previously secured a translator as it is vital that you understand all that we go over tonight. Ok, let's get started.

First some general rules about the meeting: Since you are here, you know that the meeting starts, or rather started at 10:00pm. A light pre race dinner will be served around midnight. An after dinner expresso will be available shortly after, but supply is limited, so please only have one cup. Around 1am, we will have a brief intermission. This will last somewhere between thirty minutes to an hour and a half. We have no way of notifying you of when the meeting resumes. The meeting is scheduled to conclude around 4:15, as the race begins at 4:30. In the event that the meeting runs over, one by one each of you will need to check in with the event timer. Look for a man holding the 1930s styled pocket watch. He will assign each of you a unique starting time. When you finish, we will hand you a paper and pencil so that you my calculate your finishing time. Basic arithmetic skills are necessary, but we will provide you with some simple formulas at the top of the page. Please, do not forget to write your name, your mothers maiden name, and your thirteen digit race number in the spaces provided. You must use the No. 2 pencil we give you. 

Now we can address the race itself. The race is capped at 1500 participants. Participants under the age of 18 do not count as actual participants, but we will provide them with a number. Due to this, we don't know the exact number of participants. That creates somewhat of a safety issue. We ask that everyone be aware of the people around them. If you notice that someone is suddenly not there, please notify someone of this persons disappearance. That being said, if you cannot describe the person, the location of where you saw them last or you cannot recall their thirteen digit bib number, do not tell anyone. Telling someone else, especially if you tell a race official and not just a spectator, might mean sending out a frivolous search party where we are looking for the proverbially needle in a hay stack. We would rather not waste time and valuable resources on looking for a runner who may or may not be lost. Which brings me to my next point. Carlos, please wave your hand. See the man with the bazooka gun? He will be coming around to each and every one of you. You all must sign the waiver he presents to you. This is a libality release form. Essentially saying that if you get hurt, lost, die, suffer from physical or mental pain during or in the four months following the race, we, 4 Ref, are not responsible for any of these damages. Feel free to read it, but keep in mind that it is already 11:00pm and dinner is served at midnight. Carlos looks like a man who doesn't want to be late to dinner. 

All of you should have noticed the "required gear" link located at the bottom left corner of our website, under the tab "additional information." And per the request on the page "schedule of events" under the "timeline" and then "pre race" page, where you should have seen the hot link labeled "Suggestions," all of you should have your bag of gear under your seats. This bag should also have the room for your bib number as well as a label containing the answers to the three security questions you answered on the "Gear FAQ" page. When you pick up your bib numbers after this meeting, but before you talk to the man with the pocket watch, assuming that we go over our scheduled time, please write your bib number on the bag. You'll have come back to this room, as this is where we have space to keep them. The drive between the restaurant where you pick up your bib is approximately sixteen minutes, but there might be some wiggle room there. Also, I'm assuming all of you have secured 4WD vehicles. If not, the drive time between this hotel conference room and the start line will be longer than the allotted twenty six minutes. Donkeys and sherpas might be available for hire, but the closest rental agency is a ten minute walk from here. But I digress. On to the gear. All participants should be wearing running shoes with a minimum of 6mm lugs and a maximum of 8mm. IF during the course of the race the lug height is decreased to 5mm due to wear, the runner will be asked to change into the additional pair of shoes they will have put into their pack. Runners will be required to carry two liters of water, at least 9 gels, two different pairs of sunglasses, each of varying darkness, a SPOT transmitter, a rain shell, arm sleeves, and tall compression socks. It is highly recommended that you wear two watches. Runners will also need to carry one rope for repelling and a climbing harness. You'll be wearing your aerodynamic bike helmet, so an additional helmet is not required, but also not frowned upon. Knowledge of climbing knots is also required, as you are NOT allowed to carry a repel device. There are two sections on the course where you will need to repel. Three if you follow the alternate course. There may be a bottleneck at these sections, which is why we have required you to choose a book to bring from these titles: War and Peace, The Canterberry Tales, One Hundred Years of Solitude, or Moby Dick. Hardback covers are not required, but highly recommended. You'll also be required to carry a first aid kit. In the waterproof container, you should have the following: anti venom, scissors, two meters of tape and gauze, six bandaids, 100proof alcohol, a strap of leather (to bite down on in case an amputation procedure occurs), a shot glass, one syringe of pure adrenaline, 10cc of Morphine, a portable AED, your primary AND secondary insurance cards, 3 gloves (Please make sure these are latex free) and saline. In a separate waterproof container you are required to carry a cell phone, a cell phone charger, a solar panel energy source device, and a portable hotspot. Before the race begins you should have opened up a twitter account as that is how race officials will be keeping track of participant progress as well as drops. If you have not done this, please see that you do this before you get your bib number. 

Moving on to the actual course. Like I said, the start is not here, but rather a decent distance. Once you get there you will be shuttled to the actual start. You will have a blind fold with you, you all should have known this was required, as it was written on the website under the "required pre race gear" tab. From the parking lot, you'll be blindfolded and driven to the actual start. You should also have seen under that same tab the required navigational gear- compass, complete knowledge of course topography, and you should have memorized the course description as well. Since it will be dark, and headlamps are absolutely forbidden, the first several hours of the course will be navigated by the stars, so working knowledge of astronomy will be vital. However, once the sun rises at 6:47, you must use your memory of the maps seen on the website. These were nestled under the "Additional Information" tab. You should NOT have a map on your person. And depending on which map you memorized you will be running either 48k or 76k course. Please know which you memorized, don't just follow the person in front of you as this will just add confusion to a race. 

Some suggestions if you do somehow get lost. Do not back track. Stay exactly where you are. Crews may or may not be out looking for you. To increase your odds of having a crew look for you, please try to socialize with the runners near you. Also, it is in your best interest to get lost on the first half of the 48k course or the last two thirds of the 76k course, as those are the easiest to get to. Since you have brought a novel in your gear bag, this will obviously come in handy here and should be read until you are discovered. If you were diligent in reading our website you will have also brought the gear seen on the downloadable excel spreadsheet title, "What to do if you get lost." A whistle, blanket, crossbow and fire making tools will come in handy if you happen to finish your book and realize that no one is looking for you. Thats obviously a worst case scenario though. Also, if you plan on hunting, you should have secured a hunting permit thirty days prior to the race. I believe small game is currently in season, but depending on how long you are lost, you may be able to hunt larger game. The wildlife officer will address this when we return from our intermission. 

Once you finish the race, which we expect most people to finish in about six to ten hours, again depending on the course you take, we will either have you calculate your finishing time, or if we start at the scheduled 4:30am start time, we will usher you to the after race debriefing. Either way, all participants will be required to attend the meeting. We will NOT start until everyone has finished. Since we do not know the exact number of participants, we have decided that once the room is comfortably warm from body heat, we will begin. The meeting will follow the same general schedule as the pre race meeting. Only instead of offering just expresso, we will also be adding a chocolate tasting table. There will be amply provisions, so feel free to indulge. Awards will be given during the second half of the meeting. We are currently aiming for a 3:30am start time for the ceremony. As most of you will need to return to work that same day, we have limited our presentation time to four hours. You should have already notified your work that you may be late. Also, you can read more about this on the waiver you've already signed. 

If there are no questions at this point, I'm going to suggest that we take a short break for dinner. If you are not a fluent speaker of Spanish or if you have not understood much of this meeting, I'd like to direct you to the computers in the back of the room. There you will see the talk I just gave playing on a loop. You'll be able to pause the talk to allow you time to look up translations in the dictionary you should have with you, as seen on the "Non native speakers required gear" list. Let us resume the talk when we are done with our meal. If we happen to run long on dinner and it spills into our intermission time, please see the amended schedule pamphlet we have placed in the back of the room.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

The ocean is an awful big place

I just spent ten days in Mexico. Amble beach action going on. And by that I mean, very little action, running or fitness occurring. Beach action consists of laying, reading, rotating in the sun and when you just can't recline any longer, walking. The last day in Mexico was spent on a beach nestled against the mighty Pacific ocean. After a few hours of rotisserie-ing my body in the sun, I decided to go on a stroll down the shore. I was just casually walking along, occasionally glancing over my right shoulder at the crashing waves, when I spotted a sad looking and deflated blow fish on the sand. I bent down and noticed the poor guy was still breathing. Being the rescuer that I am, I ran to the water, cupped my hands to form a bucket, scooped water up and ran back to the fish to give him a little relief. I have no idea what I hoped this would accomplish, but I quickly realized that this wasn't going to do a whole lot of good. Looking around for ideas, I spotted two smooth, palm sized rocks. New plan: scoop up the fish and set him back in the water. As I slowly carried him to the water, I projected emotions onto the fish. Surely I was scaring the crap out of him. He was frightened, but I knew he would thank me in a matter of moments- when his body was fully emerged in the cool salt water. But that didn't happen. I set him down and he did nothing. He rolled around and appeared to be apathetic about the whole encounter. Definitely not thankful for my effort. The surf wasn't doing either of us favors. As waves would crash, the fish would get washed ashore again, all but forcing me to scoop him up and place him back in the water, though each time further from shore, in hopes that he would be safe from the waves. After a few of this back and forth nonsense, I finally didn't see him come in with the tide. He had made it. Satisfied with my life saving efforts, I continued on with my walk.

As I left a trail of footprints in the sand, I started regretting the whole encounter. Perhaps I didn't save him. Maybe he knew that his time had come and beaching himself was how he wanted to go. And here I come, putting him right back to the place where he doesn't want to be- in an unforgiving ocean. I had taken my own feelings- the inescapable urge to help something suffering- and projected them onto this voiceless creature. With this in mind, I decided that if he was on the beach when I turned around, that I would keep walking, accept that not everything needs saving.

The fish had indeed returned to the shore. I bent down over him, saw his gills intermittently flaring out and then kept walking. I returned to my towel and remained there for another hour or so. As the sun was beginning to set, I decided to go for one more walk. I neared the spot where the blow fish had been earlier and noticed his absence. As luck would have it, something else took his place. A baby sea turtle. I couldn't believe it. I had to see if it was real. It couldn't be! It must be a toy. No other turtles were around. Surely if this an actual turtle people would have stopped and formed a little crowd. NatGeo would have suddenly materialized. I gently poked its side, like any seven year old would have done. Sure enough the little guy moved. Now, I don't know much about sea turtles, but what I do know makes me respect them. These creatures get a rough start to life. First, they have to break out of their egg and then clamor through thick sand- mind you they just hatched, so its not like they have a ton of strength.  Once they emerge from the nest, surely exhausted they then have to drag themselves across the beach, which relative to their size must be an incredibly daunting endeavor. If they survive the beach crawl without getting eaten by predators, their efforts are rewarded by getting slam with waves. Waves that will surely wash them back up the beach. They must swim through the surf to deeper "safer" waters, where they will most certainly encounter hungry animals looking for a small snack. Needless to say, turtles drew the short stick for life beginnings. All of this was running through my head as I stared at the very small and very tired little life. I wanted to help him to sea. I thought, "I'm bigger, I can get you to the ocean faster. You'll have a better chance if I help you." Then the blowfish came to mind. Would I be helping? Interfering with nature for my own desires, my own selfish need to avoid seeing suffering, might not be the best plan. I sat there, watching the little turtle fumble over his small paddle like limbs. The shadows of birds overhead occasionally circled around us. He neared the ocean, at a painfully slow pace. With me sitting there, he was essentially taunting the birds. The water occasionally touched him, surely motivating him. I looked out at the waves he was going to navigate in the near future. The sheer power of the waves was intimidating for me, not to mention the absolute vastness of the ocean that contains more threats that I care to imagine. Did this little turtle know his odds? If he did, they weren't stopping his efforts. A huge wave crashed on the beach, breaking my train of thoughts. The sandy water washed up over the turtle, sending his little body tumbling into the deeper, tumultuous surf. The next wave shot him right back on the beach.  The turtle would have to make the trek again, surely several times. I continued to stand near the turtle, watching him make this essential journey. Eventually the he met the waves again and was swept away. I waited to see him get washed ashore again, but he never reappeared. He moved on to another challenge. A very small turtle up against a very big ocean.

With the sun setting over the ocean, I did what any human would do, turn the days events into a much bigger thing. We all have our own beach to cross and ocean to navigate. As humans, it is our natural tendency to avoid pain and when we see others in discomfort, we want to quell it. Some struggles cannot be avoided though. We can succumb to the odds or go on, despite them.  And we must realize that we can only take others to the ocean so many times. Frequently we can't even do that. Each struggle is different. Sometimes help comes from standing beside someone, watching and just being there.