Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Only Nine More Miles To Go - Ultramarathoning Reflection

Today, standing here in the frigid February pre-dawn amongst a hodgepodge of disheveled veteran runners, I'm going to attempt to run further than I've ever run before.  I'm shivering from head to toe as David Horton, a legend among distance runners, starts the race by trumpeting an air horn so loud it cracks the air in two.  Nervous whoops break across the crowd and feet start shuffling forward, finding their footing across rocks in the darkness.

Its slow going at first, with bottlenecks at the trailhead as runners wait anxiously to enter the woods.  We face a 17 mile loop today, around Holiday Lake in Appomattox, the heart of historic Virginia Civil War country.  We'll be tackling the loop twice.

A few miles out the crowds thin and I can finally settle into my own pace.  I hate the early miles of a long race, after the excitement of the start has dissipated but the bulk of the mileage still looms before me, an unknown.  It becomes a waiting game, loping step by step.

It isn't until mile 10 that I start feeling good about things.  I've fallen once, when a tree root grappled with my right foot, but no harm was done.  And now, with a decent chunk of mileage behind me I can relax and enjoy the solitude of nature and running.  The race breaks off in clips from aid station to aid station.  These aren't the typical aid stations of my beloved marathons, stocked with water or Gatorade and Gu.  Oh no, these aid stations are like a full buffet.  Runners scarf down salted potatoes, oreos, Mountain Dew, and at one shocking station grilled burgers.  Avoiding the heavier fare, I slip pretzels over my pinky fingers to nibble along the way, and brave a few M+Ms, hoping they don't wreak havoc on my intestines later.

At the halfway point of 17 miles, I'm feeling decent.  I'm well under the time limit cutof and my feet don't have any blisters, in spite of a knee-deep icy river crossing in the early miles.  I stretch lightly and pop a couple of ibuprofin for minor aches, sharing two with an injured runner.  Eight pinky pretzels and two minutes later I'm back on the trail. 

It isn't until mile 25 that I run, literally, into trouble.  One minute I'm feeling fine and the next pain is shooting up my iliotibial (IT) band.  It's hobbling, this pain.  I stretch, but it doesn't help.  Finally, I am reduced to walking, with a long nine mile stretch to go.  Runners, bit by bit, began to pass me by.  Crunch, crunch, crunch, I'm walking.  Surrounded by oaks, with woods as far as the eye can see, quitting is not an option.

It's now that I think of Lauren.  An ultrarunner and newlywed, she recently lost her husband to an unusual and aggressive cancer.  So young, both of them, and now she struggles to hold it together while raising 13 month old twins that will never remember their father.  Somehow, through all this strife, the light of Lauren's personality doesn't wilt, she continues to bring joy and strength to others.  Her courage carries me through the slow, crippled miles.  Warm thoughts for the remnants of her family lift my heavy feet over logs, through a stream, up rustic steps and across a bridge.

With three miles to go, I must pick it up.  I'm getting close to the seven hour time limit, and if I don't finish within the limit I won't get my finisher's technical running shirt.  I want that shirt.

I try for the tenth time since mile 25 to run.  Pain bursts viciously up my thigh.  I resign myself to walking, but faster.  Shamefully, almost everyone has passed me now, except for the truly wizened old runners.  Even now one of them shuffles past, gray beard flapping down to his waist.  "You okay?" he asks.  I want to cry.  Instead I answer, "Oh yeah.  My IT band just went out, but I'm fine."  I watch his bobbing, frizzled head as it pulls away.

I finally hear the cheers of the finish line.  Buoyed with hope, I try to run, but my body won't have it.  Instead, I walk across the line that marks the 34th mile, 6 hours and 52 minutes after the airhorn blew so long ago.  I collapse into the hugs and congratulations of my friends.  "I'm never running another ultramarathon again!" I tell them, and they only nod, knowingly, and then smirk at each other when they think I'm not looking.

I ran (well, mostly ran) this disasterous race back in 2008.  I wrote this post in response to this prompt from The Red Dress Club, because I feel like some of my strongest true-self traits are perseverance and dare I say...a stubborn streak:
Imagine you are meeting someone for the first time. You want to tell them about yourself.
Instead of reciting a laundry list of what you do or where you're from, please give us a scene from your life that best illustrates your true self.
This is an exercise in showing, not telling. You need to show us why this particular moment defines you, or why you want someone to know this truth about you. Be descriptive without bogging us down in extraneous details.


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27 comments:

JDaniel4's Mom said...

I have never heard of an ultamarathon. What a tough race! How are your workout going?

cat said...

What stubborn streak?
:-)
love,
mom

Nancy@A Rural Journal said...

It's amazing what you can will yourself to do if you let your mind go to that special place. :)

amygrew said...

You are very brave to have run this! I don't even want to do a 5K! haha! I love your determination and I am glad you got your shirt :)

I Thought I Knew Mama said...

Very impressive!

Visiting from TRDC and now following you on GFC and Twitter ;-)

Jo said...

You are one tuff lady!...I enjoyed reading, I knew you were awesome, but now I realize what a great writer you are too!
~Jo
LazyonLoblolly

texwisgirl said...

I loved the tribute to your friend within this story of your own perseverence. :)

Nicole said...

Very impressive Lisa! You did a great job!

Sorry for your friend too. What a tremendous loss!

Dana said...

You painted such a scene that I winced. I could FEEL your pain. Congratulations on gritting through it and making the finish in time.
I hope you still have the T-shirt!

Jack said...

I have a BIL who runs ultramarathons and he clearly has a stubborn streak. I don't think that people would finish without one.

Very nicely done.

Victoria KP said...

This was fantastic. I love how you describe the surroundings and trying to push yourself when you're body has other ideas. Makes me want to lace up my running shoes!

Dawn said...

I am absolutely amazed by this post! What determination and inspiration. You have been passed this through your friend, and look where you went. Now I hope I can glean a bit of it and use it as well.
You ROCK!
That was one great race!!!!!!!!!
(I'd like to see the t-shirt;)

Chatty Crone said...

Gosh Lisa I will remember you and your perseverance. It's true if someones sorrow can make you appreciate where you are - then someone's joy and perseverance can too. Hope I explained it right. Sandie♥

Sandy said...

I loved this, and mentioning your friend Lauren especially touched my heart. She is in her own ultramarathon and can't stop either. Good for you for finishing!

Jennifer said...

17 mile wilderness loop run twice. Wow! That's intense. I loved this line, "Warm thoughts for the remnants of her family lift my heavy feet over logs, through a stream, up rustic steps and across a bridge." because it is so packed full of emotion for yourself, for her for loss in general.

Home In The Hollow said...

WONDERFULLY DONE! Perseverance, fortitude, courage, sheer determination and heart...lots of HEART!...:)JP

30ish Mama said...

Wow! An ultramarathon!? Good for you! You wrote about it so vividly that I felt like I was running with you. I have lived it (vicariously) through you and I will never have to try this for myself : )

Canyon Girl said...

What a wonderful way to get to know you better. Reading your tribute to your friend and how she inspired you, made me tear up. And reading about how you finished the race in time, in pain, and with so much determination inspired me in turn.--Inger

Jane said...

I admire your courage! I have a hard time walking,let alone running. You go girl! Blessings jane

Doris Sturm said...

I'm impressed - I'd kill myself - good luck and God's speed.

I have a silly question: That chicken on your blog header, is that your pet?

blueviolet said...

I LOVE how you managed to dig deep and find something that motivated you to pull through. This was terrific! Bravo!

Denelle @CaitsConcepts said...

Amazing determination and strength! You're truly an inspiration..

CDG said...

I literally cannot conceive of running 34 miles, never mind trail miles.

A stubborn streak, you say. I say admirable determination.

I am impressed, to say the least.

Shanae Branham said...

Thank you for sharing your support for Jo! It is comments like yours that make sharing so important and uplifting for everyone.

Jenna said...

Ive never gotten a look into a runner's mind, and I love what you showed us here. I think your character traits are obvious in there, with strength, determination, character, thinking ahead, pacing yourself, focusing on others and drawing inspiration when you are lacking.. Im really glad to meet you! What a great window into your life here.

Annesphamily said...

I really like your blog. You write a really great post! Glad I stopped over.

The mad woman behind the blog said...

That's not a stubborn streak, this is madness. I really enjoyed reading these miles, along side you. I even found myself rubbing my leg, feeling your pain.
You did an EXCEPTIONAL job of showing, over telling. Well done and congrats on finishing!