What the hell was I thinking (or, some thoughts on the eve of my first 24 hour race)
As I sit here, listening to some rockin’ Gaslight Anthem and getting ready to leave for Philadelphia, I keep going back to certain moments from the past few years, over and over in my head. It’s like getting to the last chapter of a tragic novel. You can look back and see all of the crucial moments, all the forks in the road, that led up to the painful and now inevitable end to our hero’s story. You can see all the decisions made, seemingly inconsequential at the time or when taken individually, that led further down that particular dark path; the twists and turns and bits of circumstance and random happenstance that conspired against him. You can look back and see those moments or choices or whatever and retrospectively scream and wave your arms but it’s to no avail. Nothing can be done now, the die is cast. (Aside: thinking about all this, as I have for a while now, is probably why I’ve gotten so engrossed in Breaking Bad all over again, watching it from Season One straight on and eagerly anticipating the fifth season premiere Sunday night. I guess I can see a lot of similarities in Walt’s journey to his own personal darkness in my running arc, though my story has decidedly less guns and murder).
I remember back in middle school, possibly my first summer trip with the youth group to Mt. Washington. One of the trip leader’s friends had a son who was thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail. He met us up there and hiking the Mt. Washington section with us, regaling me with stories of lightning strikes and close encounters with bears and all that. It seemed like a superhuman and exhilarating feat.
I remember reading Dean K’s first book and thinking that this ultrarunning thing sounded kind of insane and kind of awesome. It sounded like something I might be interested in.
I remember back when I first started hanging out with Jess (or maybe even before we really were hanging out much) and she told me about how some of the guys who ran for Haverford were attempting this crazy race that had them running for 24 straight hours around the Schuylkill loop. 24 hours? Seriously? People do that?
I remember that first 50k I ran in DC and how woefully unprepared I was for it, running the entire thing with my Jansport backpack loaded up with bottle of Gatorade and an entire tub of Vaseline and a bottle of Tums. It took me five hours and I never thought anything could possibly be more difficult ever.
I remember driving up to the Finger Lakes in July of 2010, kind of on a whim, to pace Ashley for the last lap of her 50 miler. Aside from that 50k, I had never really been around the ultra atmosphere, and never like it was up there. The camaraderie, the people pushing themselves to the very edges of physical exertion (and some well overboard), the sense of accomplishment you could see on so many faces, the beer!
I remember running the BRRC half marathon on the NCR in October of 2010. It was only $2 and I figured it’d be a fun alternative long run as I prepared for the Richmond half marathon. I ended up really surprising myself. I spent the last 2-3 miles chasing a sleek figure, inching ever-so-slightly closer to him. I ended up a mere four seconds behind Serge at that race, though I’m sure he was just using it as a long run. That was the first I’d ever met him but somehow I recognized him as being Baltimore’s own ultrarunning celebrity.
I remember a little over a year ago. The BRRC picnic. It’s something I’ve mentioned here before. Talking with Serge and some other ultrarunner types about Umstead and the 20in24 Lone Ranger. I was talking to someone who had REPRESENTED THE UNITED STATES AT A WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP. Who had been a NATIONAL CHAMPION of something. I didn’t say much, opting instead to just soak in all that these people, particularly Serge, had to offer.
All of a sudden I’m registered for a 50 mile race. So much for not running any long races and focusing on speed for a few years. To hell with that plan. I spent too much time trying to get to a point where I felt uninjured enough to do a workout, and it wasn’t like I was going to the Olympics. Or something. Ultras seemed more fun. Or something.
Then in my mind I’m in Greensboro, NC. And I’m bent over the side of a trail throwing up more red Gatorade than I ever want to see again in my life. And 5 miles later I’m winning an ultra, the first time I’d ever done that. Despite that I’m able to find a million things that I could have done much much better. Then I’m running that 50 miler three weeks later and it is not going nearly as well as I’d anticipated.
There are some more memories like that, but they’re all much much fresher. They’re mostly from a point in time already far along the path. I suppose the last significant choice I had to make was back in September when I sat myself in front of my computer at noon and managed to register for the Umstead 100. Doing that, there was no more turning back. What choice did I have? Along the way it turned out I really enjoy running timed races. Two 12 hour races confirmed that (and also highlighted just how amazing Yiannis Kouros is).
All that to say I’ve had a lot of time lately to be particularly reflective of all the moments I experienced and choices I made that got to here. And where is here? Here is about to head out the door and drive to Philadelphia. Here is about 21 hours away from taking the first steps of what will be 24 hours of continuous running. I will BE one of those crazy people Jess told me about years ago. Here is about to run 9 hours, 43 minutes, and 35 seconds longer than I ever have in my life. Johnny will be there racing too, and he’s going to kick some ass which won’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s been paying attention to the ass he’s BEEN kicking. And Serge will be there, of course. The race has never known any other champion. Amazing.
It’s all a little bit terrifying and a lot bit exciting. I thought Umstead was a pretty big deal but this is a different level. There’s going to be much more people. Us Lone Rangers, as well as single loopers, and relay teams and the colorful characters of Philadelphia. I have no idea how I’m going to do or what my race strategy or any of that nonsense will be, aside from, ‘try to run really far’ and ‘don’t die’ in that order. Of course I expect to do reasonably well but to pretend to have any real idea how it will go is silly and foolish. Above all, I want to run a smart race, be competitive, and finish completely spent (that last one probably won’t be too hard to manage).
As I get ready to do this, another thought creeps into mind. Summer of 2006. I am standing on a dock next to the boathouse closest to the Art Museum, right near where the race hubbub will be taking place this weekend. It’s nighttime. I’ve spent the entire day mostly walking around the city by myself, taking in the sights. I’ve ended up over here, with a beautiful view of the river and the houses that make up boathouse row and the museum and some of the skyline and I’m by myself just thinking. For a half hour just standing there thinking and admiring the beauty of the scene I alone was privy to. I had been in a REALLY bad place, mentally and emotionally, for weeks at that point. A lot of personal and romantic upheaval. A lot of heartbreak and heartache. And it was there, on that dock, at that moment that things stopped getting worse. Life started to feel eversoslightly more ok. I was going to be ok. It was then that my fate was sealed. Tomorrow night the lights of the houses along the river will be as bright and beautiful as they were six years ago but I will no longer be alone. The journey has been worth it.
Til next time, RUN HAPPY everyone!
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