Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Back On My Feet Lone Ranger 24-Hour Run


At some point during my childhood, I realized my eye doctor never changed the eye charts, so I memorized them. Done. Bottom line: A P E O R F D Z. And that was it. I had perfect vision with my eyes closed. I thought it was the type of challenge you could surmount one time and then move on with your life. Let’s do bigger things.

Running is not like that. In high school, as we approached the end of track workouts, my coach would yell, “One and done!” Oh, right. One for now, but in 15 minutes we’ll be doing a cool down run, and you know very well that I’ll be running every day for the rest of my life.

Ultrarunning offers a robust extension of that sentiment. Every race is a unique challenge, and there is no such thing as perfect. It requires you to adjust your plan and account for whatever befalls. Wild dogs, temperature changes, nutrition problems, mountains, and injuries. Oh, man. The Lone Ranger 24-Hour Run was no different.

The race course was beautiful. I loved it. It was a loop of about 8.45 miles around the Schuylkill. A regatta [not to be confused with ricotta] was being held out on the water. I watched as crew teams competed, and a man bellowed boating instructions over a loud speaker. Philadelphians wandered about the course all day, too, rollerblading and walking their dogs. And at night, there were fireworks in the distance. The aid stations were the best! They were well-stocked and full of the friendliest volunteers. I approached a station and heard some familiar lyrics: “And I know someday that it’ll all turn out. You’ll make me work, so we can work to work it out. And I promise you, kid, that I give so much more than I get. I just haven’t met you yet.”

You just haven’t met me yet, Michael BublĂ©. I’m right here, just running around.

One of the highlights of the day was running with Anna Piskorska—a virtual superhero of 24-hour runs. We discussed shared friends and our first meeting, at the Umstead 100, where we competed but never spoke. Anna is wonderful, and I think her daughter must be very proud of her. After about 2 hours, we separated at an aid station, and the heat of the day escalated to almost 100.

Anna had told me that 50 miles would come quickly. She was right! 60 came quickly, too. Then 70 and 80. In the heat, hydration was important. I stuck potatoes into salt cups and ate them, then chugged water. Now, writing this while sitting in a normal context, well-fed and hydrated in a temperature-controlled bedroom, that seems incomparably gross. At the time…delicious. But as the night arrived, I was ready to sleep and started to struggle with my pacing.

I worked to discipline my thoughts. As long as your mind is focused, your body will follow. At age 26, your neuroplasticity starts to decline. I turned 24 on Monday, so I’m becoming increasingly cognizant of this. I want to take advantage of my malleable intellect over the next two years by disciplining my thoughts and learning everything I can. But sometimes my mind still wanders…

The race went on. The heat got to me, so I could no longer eat solid foods. In the words of a post-modern philosopher, “Ain’t about how fast I get there. Ain’t about what’s waiting on the other side. It’s the climb.” Miley Cyrus, your lyrics would be more poignant if they were not sung while you danced on a pole. For the final 40 miles, I drank soda for sustenance. A terrific woman with a huge smile gave me iced coffee every 8.45 miles. I loved that. My wonderful crew member—Kristen “KPr$” Peterson—took great care of me and delighted in her first-ever experience at any running event. All of the other crews rallied around me as well, and I have never felt so loved by a group of people I had just met!

At about 2 a.m., a man named John offered to pace me for almost 17 miles. It was dark, and I was scared. I am so thankful for his encouragement. Later, a guy named Mike finished the race with me. He was hilarious. Mike found out I liked philosophy and asked me pressing “philosophical” concerns he had been stewing over:

“When does a twig become a stick? When does it become a branch? Then a tree?” he probed.

“I don’t know, Mike. Those are implicit in the definitions of the various affections of wood…together called a tree,” I mumbled. “It’s not philosophy.” Mike smiled and told me about the time he made a tree into a log.

“What would happen if I had a car driving at the speed of light with its headlights on?” he asked. Physics. I was 120+ miles into a run and had no remaining mental lucidity to answer that with any clarity of response. But I loved that he was engaging me in my interests. We laughed a lot. Mike was the best.

My parents came! I love them! They love when I run for 24 hours and get all beat up and exhausted; it’s probably their favorite thing.

Then it was all over. I got my first record, which was exciting. 127 miles (officially 125.something to the final aid station you reach) in nearly 100-degree heat off of 3 weeks of training. That’s encouraging to me. It means I can plug in and do work. I went home, rehydrated, and thought about my next race. I want to compete in the 24-hour run for the national team in Cleveland this September. I love this distance.

When I woke up in the morning, I had to google the event to make sure it all really happened because these runs seem so surreal. It’s like living 2 separate lives. I put on my loafers and business clothes and hopped onto the metro, hoping it was the correct train. I couldn’t really read the sign, so I just crossed my fingers and assumed it said A P E O R F D Z.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Sylvia Strikes Again

I am in a public feud with an old lady at my gym. And I just love her.

I started attending a gym a few times a week when I moved to the DC area back in September, and this woman—whom we will call Sylvia—immediately accosted me. She marched up to me in the locker room one morning and said, “I just don’t understand why they let children into this gym. Where are your parents? I want to give them a piece of my mind.”

I stood there, shocked. She was like the 70-year old female version of Kanye West, jumping into my life like that. Other women in the room looked away, nervously.

The next day, she got me again, just as I was hopping off of the elliptical. “Oh, hello, CHILD,” she spat at me in an acerbic tone. I loved this woman. I am 23. So I told her that. Sylvia eyed me up and down and muttered, “Well, there is no way I could have known.” Later, I caught her at the front desk, talking to one of the office managers. “There is a child in here,” she said, glancing toward me. “She’s a child, and she is lying about her age. I’d say she is twelve years old at the most.” I laughed.

The feud has continued. One morning, I was heat training in the sauna when Sylvia came upon me. She jacked up the heat and then ran away, trying to over-heat me out of the gym. There is comedy in that. I appreciate her wit. Sylvia once told me to stop wearing eyeliner because “it’s not really for kids,” and she offers to help me get dressed. Do I need help tying my shoes? No. Thanks, though. I have been advised to “be seen and not heard.” So I cannot answer her indictments. It is settled; I am twelve.

Youth does have its advantages. For example, my bones heal like lightning. That is a wonderful thing because there are 6 weeks between when I broke my foot and my next race. Perfect! Actually, I am already 100% recovered; now I just have to get in shape.

All my life, I’ve been somewhat accident-prone in running, most recently awarding me the Best Blood recognition at Grindstone ‘08. My first athletic injury came at age 3. I was running in a graveyard when I tripped and broke my nose on a parked minivan. A year later, I tried to outrun my next-door neighbor’s mountain goat. In the end, it got me and head-butted me into the bushes. In 4th grade, my friend Glenn told me he was faster than me. We lined up at recess to race. Glenn got caught up in a jump rope, and I sprinted to victory. I turned around to laugh, still moving forward, and ran into a shed. Now I have a chin scar. Glenn was a very graceful 9-year-old and did not tease me as he walked me to the nurse’s office. Pride go-eth before a fall. Pride ran-eth me into a shed.

Yesterday, I picked up my friend, Austin, in the District at 5:40 a.m. and we traveled a few hours away to the Jeremy’s Run area of the Shenandoah Mountains. There, we met up with the VHTRC [Virginia Happy Trails Running Club…so cool] to do a 21-miler up into the mountains. It was amazing. I love the fellowship of running. We saw bears and breathed in the fresh air. Something bit my ankle, and I got worried. Austin said that if my flesh started to decay, he would let me know because he is a good friend.

Actually, I make a point of trying to keep as many middle school friends as possible, and Austin is among them. I think: This person chose to be my friend when I was at my ugliest and most awkward, when I was a brace-faced member of Young Astronaut’s Club, who spent my free time traveling around northern NJ performing yodels in a goat costume. There is freedom in knowing I have that level of acceptance. By comparison, anything I do now is cool.

The views were beautiful, and the people were delightful. I enjoyed making new friends and hearing their stories. Every ultrarunner has ridiculous stories, and it is fun to listen and share.

We reached an overlook and paused to explore the view. “Austin,” I coughed. “Are we at altitude, or am I out of shape?” He told me I was out of shape. Cool. There’s time. My goal is to get fit by Tuesday.

Austin wears those glove-shoes, and he loves them. He always gets a lot of attention for them, and people ask him for shoe advice. This is funny to me. Austin is very clear-eyed, and I would ask him for advice on lots of things, just NEVER issues of shoe preference. For example, see what he chose to wear during the DC Snow-pocalypse. Very fashion-forward. What a guy.

(Austin reads this blog but is on a business trip to Lebanon and will not see this for at least 8 days.)

I got home early from the run and went over to dog-watch a basset hound named Tucker.

Tucker is a diva, and I could not get him inside. After taking him for a walk, I let him roam freely about the fenced in-backyard. But I couldn’t get him to re-enter the house. From 7:45 until almost 10 p.m., I chased him around the backyard, but he has swivel-hips and kept eluding me. I played dead, and he didn’t care. I pretended to cry to elicit sympathy, but he was heartless. I kept asking him, “Is this the way you want to start our friendship?” But Tucker sprinted around and around. It was demoralizing. Finally, I gave up and walked inside. Tucker took the cue and followed me in. Just like that. Tucker, my love for you is not contingent upon your behavior. I will love you just as you are. You are another Sylvia in my life.

Today I ran about 35 miles (plus some lifting and dog-walking), and tomorrow I’ll get more heat training in. My foot is perfect, and I am excited about my upcoming race. I love summer, and I love this sport.