Sunday, June 5, 2016

Cayuga Trails Marathon Race Report: A series of increasingly terrible haikus

Taper Madness
Random aches and pains,
Thoughts increasingly inane,
Patience starts to wane

You'd think that taper would be a time of joy. You're running less, letting your body recover and rest before a big race. You'd think your body would be all, this is the best, this is amazing! But you'd be wrong. Instead, your (or at least my) brain gets all Why does my back hurt? And what is that weird pain in my groin? What if my leg falls off and I die, like less than a mile from the finish line? What size ice cream do I want? That one, the biggest one. No wait, do you have a child size? No I mean an ice cream cone the size of an actual child? Yes, I'll take that. The hardest part of a race may actually be the taper leading up to it. Too much time on your hands and not enough time on your feet. And it's easy to get trapped in a downward spiral of increasingly illogical thoughts. The internal cacophony of The Doubts, The Fears and Every Single One Of Your Failures is unrelenting. Until you start to run. And then everything is beautifully painful and painfully beautiful.

Let go of the "shoulds."
Eat everything at Moosewood.
I'd sleep if I could.

I drove to Ithaca Friday after work, checked into the hotel and went to dinner with Laura and Todd at Moosewood, where I  devoured black bean and sweet potato quesadillas, chips and guacamole. Sleep, as it often does the night before a race, proved to be elusive. I was a bundle of nerves and excitement. The anxiety stems from uncertainty more than anything else. I'd done the work - the hill repeats, long runs, strength training and miles of intervals on the stair climber. But racing is a crapshoot. Sometimes you have a good day, sometimes you have a bad day. When you're running for hours, anything can happen. And I know at some point it's going to hurt, so the anxiety is just fretting about the unknown extent of that suffering. Runners talk about their ideal "race weight" but I don't really have any goals in that regard. I run year round and my weight basically stays the same, give or take a few cookies. So race weight to me is more of a mental thing. I try to leave my expectations and ego at home. Because that shit is heavy and can really drag you down. Before a race, I have little pep-talks with myself: Brain, whatever happens, embrace and enjoy it. Body, I love you. Thank you for letting me do this. It's cheesy, sure. But cheese is good. And it works.

Saturday morning I woke up early, ate a bagel with almond butter and went to watch the start of the 50 mile race, which took off at 6am. Then I rode with Eric and Picasso to the first aid station to cheer everyone on. Eric dropped me back off at the starting line on his way to the second aid station and I hung around waiting/peeing approximately 17 times until the marathon start at 8am.

The Way Out: Start to Underpass Aid Station
This is beautiful.
But seriously, these trails.
Wow. This is the life!

The course is basically an out-and-back from Robert Treman State Park to Buttermilk Falls, about 12.5 miles each way, with a few deviations so it's not exactly the same route in both directions. The marathon course had an extra 1 mile loop before the first aid station to bring the distance up to 26 miles total. TrailsRoc runs the aid station at Buttermilk Falls, the turnaround point. And by runs, I mean totally rocks. I knew there would be a lot of friendly faces and beautiful waterfall views to look forward to, so I told myself all I had to do was run there and then run back. I followed Mark off the starting line and figured I would try to keep up with him for as long as I could. My back had been hurting all week, which was slightly worrisome, but luckily it didn't really bother me during the race. I was having a great time. These trails, I cannot overstate how beautiful they are. Single track and double track. Shady trails and fields of tall grasses. Roots to dance around. Logs to climb over (I was running with Mark, so naturally we made a lot of jokes about hard wood). Gorges and waterfalls. Dude, the waterfalls. It's like running through a series of postcards. Postcards filled with hills and stairs. And more hills and stairs. The one mile loop for the marathon was uphill. Of course. There was a bagpiper playing at the start of the loop and the sound followed us for the whole mile. I associate bagpipes with funerals because there were bagpipers at Papa's funeral (the first one I ever went to, when I was in fourth grade) and because no matter what song they play it sounds so somber and depressing. So I felt like we were on some kind of weird uphill funeral march. But a very scenic funeral march! I ran past the first aid station without stopping and only stopped briefly at the second aid station to get a couple peanut M&Ms and a piece of PBJ sandwich (I had plenty of water in my pack and had been taking a salt tab and eating half a Picky Bar every hour or so).

Happiness in the woods.
Photo by Steve Gallow

The Way Out: Underpass to Buttermilk
Run to Buttermilk.
Beware of The Lopata!
TrailsRoc: Best Ever!

The miles had been passing fairly quickly as Mark and I chatted and joked around. The most awesome part of this course is that you get to see a pretty constant stream of 50 mile runners going in the opposite direction (and later on, the 50 mile leaders going in the same direction), so it's like running a race while watching/cheering for a parade of super badass ultramarathoners, many of whom I'm lucky enough to know. The only thing is, I need to think of better/funnier things to say than "Nice job" and "Looking good." Mark helpfully suggested "Nice ass." Just after the Underpass Aid Station, the course goes through a creek that was waist deep, and the cool water felt amazing on my hot and tired legs. After more miles of hills and stairs, a nice road section where I could give my brain a rest and just run without thinking, and a long downhill, we arrived at Buttermilk, where there was a sign warning us "Beware: Lopata ahead." We stopped to refill our water, while Laura gave me some Ginger Ale and Dan Lopata heckled us with gems like "Keep running! What shoes are you wearing? RUNNING shoes! Get running!" Mark stayed at the aid station longer than I did, but I figured he would catch back up to me soon enough. I grabbed another PBJ square and an Oreo and ate them while walking up the Buttermilk Falls stairs. I was just past the halfway point and now all I had to do was run back to the start/finish.

The Way Back
Getting hot in here.
The carnage is everywhere.
Stairs. Stairs. Fucking Stairs.

I hadn't really noticed the heat until I left Buttermilk. Maybe it's because I was now by myself and no longer had the distraction of good company. Or because the temperature was now in the 80s. Luckily, I was built for hot, sunny days, so other than being sweaty (and probably terribly smelly), I felt fine.
And I say 'by myself,' but really I was never alone out there since every few minutes I would see other runners and friends. I got super excited when I saw Danielle as she was heading out to Buttermilk for the second time looking super strong, in full-on beast mode. And when I saw Sheila cruising along towards an epic 50 mile PR, on a bitch of a course and an inferno of a day, crushing it like it's nothing. And then when I saw O'Brien rocking the toucan short shorts (it's amazing what you can accomplish via limericks, ridiculous sartorial suggestions and peer pressure). At mile 20, my legs started to grow weary of all the climbs, but it was only mild soreness and nothing hurt, so I just kept chugging along. My brain was alternating between repetitions of "You gotta put in work, work, work, work, work, work, work" (from Fifth Harmony's "Work From Home") and "All the dirt you wander through" (From Mike Doughty's "All the Dirt"). In the later miles, I encountered some of the carnage from the heat. I gave a ginger salt tab to a woman hunched over on the side of the trail who said she'd been having stomach issues. Another woman told me how she was having trouble breathing because she'd bruised her ribs last week. I asked her how and she said "You're going to laugh. I did a long run and the band on my sports bra was too tight." We chatted a bit, then she wished me "Happy Trails" and took off. For the last 2 miles I followed a guy who, when I caught up to him, told me "I just went through a bout of dry heaving on that hill." Fun times. I felt extremely lucky that I was feeling pretty good in comparison. I mean, I was definitely tired and sweaty. But I felt strong and I was having a most excellent time playing in the woods. Especially after I got a blue Freezepop from an aid station. Let me tell you, there are few things better than running through the woods on a summer day eating a Freezepop.

The After Party
Finish. Hobble. Sit.
Sore. Happy. A day well spent.
Ice cream. More ice cream.

I got to spend 5 hours and 40 minutes running through the woods and wading through creeks. I got to talk to Pete, who unbeknownst to me was following my progress from Afghanistan. (I can't wait until he comes home so we can get back to doing this crazy shit together). I got an ice cream sandwich when an ice cream truck showed up at the park! Then I got to spend the rest of the day cheering for friends old and new. Friends who had good days and achieved new distance or time goals. Friends who suffered in the heat and still finished strong, with smiles on their faces and awesomeness in their cramping muscles. Friends whose races didn't go as planned but who gave it their all and went as far as they could. I am in awe of them and their epic feats of endurance and heart.  After everyone finished, Alison, Bob, Todd and I went to Ciao! for dinner (Their advertised "Black and beige motif" was underwhelming but their pizza was excellent) and to Purity for ice cream. And then I fell asleep full of carbs and happiness.

Thanks to Red Newt Racing, waterfalls, stairs and Freezepops for one hell of an adventure. And infinity of thanks to my friends who volunteered, spectated and ran their inspiring little asses off. I am so happy to know you. Let's keep this party going for as long as we can.

Lyric of the moment: "You can do a lot in a lifetime if you don't burn out too fast. You can make the most of the distance. First you need endurance. First you've got to last..." ~Rush "Marathon"

No comments:

Post a Comment