Monday, July 6, 2015

Finger Lakes 50K 2015

Finger Lakes 50K was the hardest race I've ever run. The conditions were terrible. The course, while still beautiful, was a sloppy, muddy mess. All kinds of mud. Stinky, cow pasture mud. Shoe sucking, calf deep mud. Slippery, gooey, pudding-esque mud. I knew that it was going to be muddy, but I didn't know how muddy. I couldn't have fathomed the level of mud we're talking about here. It was ridiculous. But I had made my peace with the inevitable messiness that I would be facing. Because it only becomes a struggle if you resist it. You can get stuck in a "this sucks" mindset and make yourself miserable. Or you can tell yourself "This is the stuff that stories are made of" and embrace the epicness of the journey you're on.

Pre-race photo by the Selfie King, Todd

That's not to say I was calm, cool and confident about this race going in. My stomach was aflutter with nervous energy. The course is a bit longer than a 50K, actually around 33 miles, which would make it the farthest I've ever run. I was a little concerned about  the physical task at hand (and foot) but more so about the mental energy it would take to remain in a positive mindset throughout the miles and miles of muck. I'm not a particularly fast or strong runner. But I am a happy runner. That's because I will never again let my mind go to that dark place where the doubts and demons win. Whatever happens, I just try to make the best of it. So I get out all my ridiculous, irrational fears beforehand. Then on race day, I let go of expectations, judgment and negativity and just focus on enjoying the experience. For me, this race wasn't a tale of pain and suffering. It was a chance to run 33 miles with my love in my 33rd year of life. And that's exactly what I did.

Friday afternoon, Pete, Steven and I headed down to the house Alison and Bob had rented on Seneca Lake and awesomely invited us to share with them. Todd joined us as well and we played the terribly weird yet strangely intriguing Worst Case Scenario board game, ate some pizza and cookies, played some euchre and headed to bed early. Saturday morning we got up at 4am, accidentally set off Pete's car alarm at 4:30am (the neighbors were thrilled with us I'm sure), ate breakfast and headed off to the race start at the Potomac Group Campsite in Finger Lakes National Forest.

At a little past 6:30am the race started under overcast skies and some moderate rain. Pete, Steven and I ran the first few miles together, then Steven went on ahead to catch up with the others. I let Pete set the pace and I just followed along. At one point, Pete said something like "I'm so glad to be here with you" and one of the guys ahead of us asked "Is that your wife?" Pete told them we're getting married in September. One guy said "My wife is upset that I'm running this race." The other guy said "My wife divorced me because of my running." We told them we met running trails and the divorced guy said "I guess you guys are proof of that saying, 'If you want to find the love of your life, stop looking and just do what you love." That has certainly been true for me. I've met the most amazing people, and the man of my wildest, most impossible dreams, in the woods.

We made it through the first 25K loop in pretty good spirits but didn't linger too long at the finish area so we wouldn't be tempted to stay there. It had stopped raining by this point and the sun was peeking through breaks in the clouds, but the loop was even sloppier the second time around. It was slow going in most spots. Wrestling through all the mud was draining, both physically and mentally. Admittedly, I was a little frustrated because I came here to run a 50K and there were a lot of spots we were forced to walk so we wouldn't slip in the mud and fall into the barbed wire fences. But I was happy to be there with Pete. I just told myself that it was like trick or treating - run from aid station to aid station, getting candy and PBJ sandwich bites (the final aid station had PBJ/M&M sandwiches which is sheer brilliance!) wearing my makeshift swamp thing costume, which got more and more authentic the farther I ran. On a few occasions Pete told me to just go on ahead without him, but there was no way I was going to do that. I had no goals for this race other than to stay positive, finish and most importantly, do it together. My back started to ache halfway through the second loop, which was weird since that's never happened to me before. Usually it's my legs that feel tired and sore. But there wasn't any point where I felt bad. I focused on my Eat, Drink and Be Merry race philosophy and just kept going. We chatted with a few other runners as we crossed paths in the muck, then we saw John and Kathy at The Morgue aid station. I was superstitious about stopping there the first time around so we had skipped it. But on the second loop, Pete stopped to get the accumulated debris out of his socks and shoes while I drank ginger ale and ate candy and joked nervously about all the bones and skulls they had laying around. There were a bunch of bones hung up like a necklace on a branch near the trail and I was like "I hope I don't end up like that guy" and John was like "That guy has a lot of femurs, he must be a good runner."

Eventually, we made it to the marathon point, then the 50K point, then we stopped to wade in the pond and clean off our shoes a bit before we ran the final stretch to the finish line. It had been a very long day and I was still in a good mood, but so, so happy to be done. We got our finisher fleeces and glasses and then I got to sit down for the first time in almost 9 hours. Alison, Todd, Bob and Steven had all finished way ahead of us but were nice enough to wait and cheer us on. I was struggling to get my wet, muddy compression socks off and Alison came over to help me. I said "I don't think you want to touch this" and she said "Sometimes being a friend means touching things you don't want to touch." She grabbed my socks and pulled while Todd held my shoulders so she wouldn't pull me off the picnic table bench. Not only is she the champion of the women's 50-59 age group, but she's kind enough to wait around for you to finish and pull off your gross socks. Chris drove the others back to the lake house and Pete, Todd and I followed a little later. On our way, I saw a sign that said "Celebrate with ice cream" so Pete pulled over and Todd and I got ice cream cones for the ride back. Of all the signs in life, that's one you definitely have to heed.

Post race photo thanks to the lovely Chris

We spent the night eating, talking and laughing (then sleeping. lots of sleeping), which is the best way to spend any night. On Sunday, I came home to find that my bike had been stolen from my garage, which was bit of a downer. I had this moment of disappointment, but then I thought it's just a possession, it's not important. People who resort to theft generally have a lot of troubles, so they must have needed the bike more than I do.

Besides, my weekend of awesomeness was not yet over. My mom and I went wedding dress shopping Sunday afternoon then Pete and I rode his motorcycle down to Charlotte to get ice cream. As we were taking off our helmets, an older guy carrying a tiny dog came over and started talking to us about Harley Davidsons (those people are really enthusiastic about the whole live to ride, ride to live thing. It is adorable.) He said "I never had any kids, thank God, but I've had five Pomeranians. This one is only 7 pounds. Here" and then proceeded to hand me his dog. So I'm standing there holding his dog and he's talking up a storm, and this is why I can never be mad at humanity. People are so weird and funny and I love it.

Five years ago, hell even one year ago, I would not have believed that I would ever run 33 miles or have any need to purchase a wedding dress. But that is my life: chipping away the im from impossible every day. For someone like me, whose two most favorite things are running and people, it was an epic weekend for sure.

I'm beyond thrilled that I get to spend the rest of my life with Pete and for all the days I get to spend, rain or shine, with all of you.   

Lyric of the moment: "I’ll come right down to it. How do I accept the gift? Sheer matter that I exist. I’ve thought a lot about it. And I am still in limbo. I still don’t know if it’s down there in my soul. I am waiting for the role. If it’s down there in my soul. It’s just right, take flight. I've been waiting all my life..." ~DJ Harry "All My Life"

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