Hobbling around Brooklyn these past few days has been a rewarding feeling. Every now and then I’ll put just the right weight on one of my quads and instantly almost collapse to the ground, just like the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz, which is usually followed by strange looks from nearby witnesses, but I don’t seem to mind. It’s healthy to have a constant reminder of a good hard effort on a trail. A keepsake of a risk taken, a simple goal achieved: to move forward all day long and cross the finish line before a certain hour. Yesterday I opened a bag I should have opened a day sooner, full of wet running clothes smelling so pungent and vile I contemplated just throwing them away. After all, if something smells like that, will one cycle in the washing machine really rid them of their foulness? As it turns out, no, one cycle is indeed not enough. I’m taking bets on the second one.
Yes, 50 miles this past Saturday on technical terrain with a total elevation change of over 14,000 feet. To this date it is the toughest course I’ve ever run on and I have a new-found respect for the hills that lie an hour north of New York City.
The lowest point came early, between miles 5-10. While out of breath, stepping one foot in front of another up a steep incline of loose rock, I began to panic and say things to myself:
“Not even 1/5 done with this thing and I’m feeling destroyed. Imagine how I’ll feel when I’m 4/5 done.”
“How am I going to pull this off? I’m not sure I will this time.”
“I should have trained harder on the hills.”
“If I DNF is it okay?”
“Yes. It’s okay. I’ll think up a good excuse.”
“NO, DAMMIT! A DNF IS NOT OKAY UNLESS YOU ARE INJURED!”
“But maybe I can get injured. Soon. Maybe I can just step on this rock wrong and get injured and then I will have a good excuse to DNF.”
“WILL YOU QUIT SAYING DNF!!!”
“You’re right. Too much DNF talk. The acronym is burrowing itself into my brain like a bad song stuck in my head. I should say a different phrase. I like that song
. The lyrics to the first verse start with:
“YES I CAN!”
And shortly thereafter I was fine and moving along with rhythm and patience and acceptance.
At an aid station around the halfway mark I ran into Cherie, who I casually know from the Burning Man 50k I’ve run the past two years. She wasn’t feeling well and the two of us started chatting. And chatted some more. And kept chatting. And basically chatted for the entire second half of the race all the way to the finish line. And the range of topics we covered over those rugged 25 miles went full spectrum, from wonderful moments of the past, to bad experiences, and everything in between. I’ve randomly met up with people mid race and finished it out with them before, but this is probably the most in depth get-to-know-you conversation I’ve ever had on the trails. There were moments when I wasn’t feeling very well but Cherie was fine so she would lead us on, and there were times when she wasn’t feeling good so I’d push the pace. That good ol’ spastic physical and mental Ultrarunning Roller Coaster and we were riding it together. When it was over 13 hours and 26 minutes after it started I was so very grateful for her company and it was a good reminder of how big an impact another person can have on an experience. The hours flew by and when all was said and done we had a lot of fun and am thankful that she pushed me when I needed to be pushed and was not grossed out when I'd take the bandana off my head to wring out the sweat.
And as of right now I have no other races scheduled. Infinite options loom in my mind and it feels good to let them all stew: Grindstone 100? A fast marathon? Auditioning? Writing a new play? Perhaps I will stay in this place for a while. Or maybe I’ll figure out where I want to focus my energy by the time I awaken in bed tomorrow. And I know that when I finally decide, I'm going to commit to it. Because I like to finish what I start. But whatever happens, whatever I choose, it feels good to have open possibilities ahead of me right now. It feels freeing. And I like that…for now.