Monday, June 26, 2017

Everything is beautiful and everything hurts: Many On The Genny 2017

I could not have predicted, nor do I have the words to adequately explain, what this race would mean to me. I registered for the Many On The Genny 40 mile trail run in Letchworth State Park a year ago, knowing that it was so far out of my league. But I have run hundreds of miles with Eric and Sheila. They are some of the finest humans I have ever met. And I knew that their race would be one of those once in a lifetime adventures. I did not know if I was up to the challenge of completing it. I did not know that the warm fuzzy aftermath of doing so surrounded by this amazing community and my tramily would be my bolster as I received the most devastating news of my life. I just knew that I had to do it, that every time I get lost in the woods, I find the best parts of myself.

MOTG, Letchworth
At the start. Thanks to Matt for the photo

 Somewhere around mile 30, I was ready to be done. The first 20 miles had flown by. It was muddier than I expected, due to all the rain the night before. I slipped and fell on a slick downhill but I landed on my butt and was fine (thanks, rear airbags!). I got to run and chat with some awesome ladies. I did shots of Mountain Dew. I changed into fresh socks and shoes, which I'd never done in a race before. It was life changing, even though they were dirty again within 10 minutes. It was sunny and warm and felt like running in a rainforest. With breathtaking waterfalls. We took a few wrong turns, but quickly realized our mistakes and got back on course. The volunteers were the actual best. Running into an aid station and hearing people call your name and care for you, even though they are the ones who have the harder job, is like coming home (if your home was filled with delicious snacks and wonderful people, which if you're lucky like me, it is).

MOTG, Letchworth
Thanks to Sherry for the photo and for sharing a few miles with me

Miles 20-30 were lovely as well. I was still in good spirits and had even better company. But then around mile 30 we hit the most desolate part of the course and I found myself mostly alone. I was tired but still moving forward, though at what seemed like a glacial pace. I felt like aid station 4 would never come. Luckily I had grabbed a handful of Twizzlers at a previous aid station, so whenever I started to get discouraged I would pop a Twizzler and get that jolt of sweet sugary happiness. When I felt sad about being alone, I'd tell myself things like "You can do hard things" and "You can do this. You're so stubborn, you can do anything." Eventually I caught up to a guy and followed him up and down a couple of creek crossings, some of whose descents and ascents were a bit precarious, especially on tired legs. After he crossed he'd look back and ask if I was ok. People are the best. And then I was alone again. I finally made it to aid station 4 and then began the seemingly never-ending stretch of trail to aid station 5. I was so, so ready to stop. Nothing hurt, well other than normal I've-been-running-for-so-many-hours soreness. I was just tired of being alone in the woods and missing Pete. Then "Tear You Apart" by She Wants Revenge came on my iPod and I picked up my pace to match the beat. I saw someone up ahead and was overjoyed to realize it was Matt. I caught up to him and told him I was sorry he wasn't feeling well (he is way faster than me so I knew something was wrong if I was seeing him now) but I was so happy to see him and have someone to run with. We commiserated about the fact that it seemed like we should have gotten to the water drop by now and it was looking like this race was going to be over 40 miles. Around mile 35 my butt started to chafe. I mean how ridiculous is that, 35 miles deep in a beast of a course and the only thing that really hurt was my ass crack? How does butt chafe even happen? That was an experience I could have done without. Eventually we came to the water drop, a family hiking in the woods gave us watermelon, and then at long last the siren song of "The Final Countdown" welcomed us into aid station 5. We sat down for a couple minutes, I drank more Mountain Dew and a volunteer asked if I wanted "boob ice" (Um yes, yes I definitely do. Putting ice in your sports bra is one of the best things you can do on a hot day). Matt calculated that we could still finish under 10 hours. I didn't care about the time, but I was so ready to be done. The last 4 miles seemed interminable but then suddenly I was at the finish hearing Pete call my name. I was surprised (and so incredibly happy) to see him there (He'd run 27 miles then decided that was enough. Because he's the smart one). I high-fived Eric, gave Pete a great big bear hug, then hugged Matt after he finished. Those last miles would have sucked even more without his company.

MOTG, Letchworth
Thanks so Sonia for the photo and being a volunteer extraordinare

I remember thinking during a solo stretch of the race how ultrarunning is like life, or at least how life should be. There are ups and downs, highs and lows, laughs and tears. Some days everything is beautiful and nothing hurts. Some days everything is beautiful and everything hurts. But somehow you always get what you need. When you think you can't go on, you find the strength to go on. When you think you're alone, you turn the corner and find a friend, or a stranger who will become a friend. People ask what you need and give it to you. You ask what people need and give it to them. Everyone understands that yeah, this is a fucking excruciating journey, but it's sublime and transformative and almost unbearably awesome. Most of all, they understand that the whole point of everything is to be here for each other. And you need that, man you need that. Life is hard. And brutally short. Sometimes the pain and the loss are overwhelming. But you can do hard things. You can do anything. We can do it together.

My trail family, my heart

Saturday night my body hurt so much that I couldn't sleep. But Sunday morning, when I found out that my dad had passed away unexpectedly, the physical pain paled in comparison to the agony of my heart breaking. My dad (and my mom) are the reason I am the person I have become. Dad built us stilts and two tree forts, he gave me my sense of humor and taught me how to catch and throw, he suggested that I join the Cross Country and Track teams when I was 14. I don't know where he got the idea, he wasn't a runner himself. But it turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me. I started running and it changed everything for the better. I fell in love with running, I fell in love with life. I found the very best husband and friends and the kind of inspiring, supportive community that everyone should get to have. So thank you, my friends, for filling my heart with enough love to make it through the hard things, the pain and loss and grief. I don't know if I will stop crying. I do know I will never stop missing him. And that the depth of the hurt is a measure of how incredibly fortunate I am to have called Thomas J. Pratt Jr my dad.

Dad and his clone

For those of you who may ask what I need, it is this: If you knew my dad, please share any stories or pictures of him you might have. If you didn't, please hug someone, tell your people what they mean to you, love each day as if it were your last.

Lyric of the moment: "Oh, it's a fragile thing, this life we lead. If I think too much, I can get overwhelmed by the grace by which we live our lives with death over our shoulders. Want you to know that should I go, I always loved you..." ~Pearl Jam "Sirens"

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Notorious MOTG

In 4 days I will run a race. Though to call what I do racing is laughable. It implies a certain speed, talent and competitive spirit that I will never possess. I don't race. I explore, I adventure, I wander through the woods eating peanut butter sandwiches. Other people race. And I cannot wait to hear about their triumphs. But I am not the hare. I am the tortoise, a steady, relentless force. On Saturday I won't be running against a clock or anyone else (maybe against a cutoff time. I would like to beat that if I can). It will take me as long as it takes me, this quest to cover 40 miles on foot. I'm not a racer. So for me this is not a race. It is poetry in motion. And I, a fumbling runner and comically bad poet, will struggle one step at a time, to let go of doubts/expectations/the past, to fully enjoy the present moment, to find the answers to the questions I can't stop asking and the words to tell you how much better my life is for having known you. I'm not ready for a race. But I'm always up for an adventure. So while I'm quite sure I cannot run that far and might actually die, I'm also jonesing for some Indiana Jones type shenanigans. Nadirs of Letchworth State Park? Hopefully not The Broken Skull, The Temple of Doom or The Last Crusade.

All fears aside, I've loved this course since I first ran part of it with Sheila in 2015 (Thanks to Eric for the pic!)

We'll see what Saturday brings. For now, all I've got is terrible poetry.

It seemed like a good idea a year ago
Running The Notorious MOTG
Now it looms over me like a mighty foe
And that's no hyperbole

40 miles around gorges Letchworth
A challenge most daunting
As I traverse the water chiseled earth
Will I be weighed and found wanting?

Do I have what it takes to go the distance?
Probably not, but I'll try anyway
'Cause this is the highlight of my existence
Exploring the woods with you all day

So lungs breathe deep, eyes savor the view
On this quest through forests, creeks and muds
Heart explodes in feels thanks to you
And most of all to Trail Methods

Lyric of the moment: "I could chase you til my heart gives out. Even if it means that my tears dry out. 'Cause I'm a little broken, I hope you understand. Can you take me as I am? Can you take me as I am? God knows I ain't perfect, it's not like I had planned. Can you take me as I am? Can you take me as I am? ~Johnny BLK "As I Am"

Friday, June 16, 2017

Pretzel cones and other minor epiphanies

When I find myself searching for something - direction, answers, reassurance - I often re-read the Tao Te Ching, Rudyard Kipling's "If" and Max Ehrmann's "Desiderata." I am drawn especially to the end of the latter: "Whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should...And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy." 

It appeals to me not because it is some immutable truth. I don't know if the universe is unfolding as it should. I look around and see so much hatred, violence and fear in the world and think how can this possibly be what "should" happen? I look around and see so much love, kindness and pretzel cones piled high with ice cream (This is a fantastic new thing it has taken me 35 years to discover and it is the best!) and think why isn't life like this for everyone all the time? I don't know who is in charge of folding or unfolding the universe. But I do know that it's not me (Lucky for all of us. I can't even fold a fitted sheet). Many things have happened, are happening and will happen that are out of my control. Things I like, things I dislike, things I want to change, things I can't change, things I don't understand, things that are depressingly unfair, things that are unimaginably beautiful. In a vast and ever expanding universe, I am impermanent, insignificant. And I find this comforting. It reminds me that control is an illusion. 

What I can't do: Control everything, or even most things. Especially not what other people think or say or do.

What I can do: Accept uncertainty, discomfort, change. Strive for vulnerability over defensiveness, curiosity over judgment and compassion over cruelty in my thoughts, words and actions. At times when I fail to do so, apologize and keep trying. 

Lyric of the moment: "Try a little tenderness, maybe some benefit of the doubt. Another person's point of view, try to listen not to shout. Hold your opinions loosely maybe you're not always right. Show a little mercy, and hold on to love real tight. It's a wild world we're all trying to find our place in it. It's a wild world and no one seems to understand it. But there ain't no way I'm gonna quit it. Love is all we got to give away..." ~Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors "Wild World"

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Cayuga Trails Marathon 2017

Apologies in advance. This is not going to be a very exciting race report. I don't have anything funny or insightful to say. But the Cayuga marathon is an awesome race and I'd highly recommend it. The trails are gorgeous and challenging. There is also the 50 mile trail championship option, for those superhumans out there. I have no idea how anyone can run 50 miles that fast or even at all, but they do, and it's fantastic to witness. Plus, you don't get many chances in life to run next to waterfalls on a sunny June day while a bagpiper plays, so you've got to relish those opportunities.

The weekend itself was fun, and not just because I love any excuse to go to Ithaca and to see so many of my favorite people. Pete and I drove to Ithaca on Friday night, went to packet pickup and dinner with Alison, Bob and Todd (delicious ramen and super cool ice cream rolled up into tubes and topped with whipped cream and candy!), then went to sleep in a fancy Marriott. In the morning we headed to Robert Treman State Park and stood around talking to everyone while we waited for the race to start.

At a little after 8am, the ram's horn sounded and we were off. From the get-go I didn't feel great. I'd had bad poops in the morning (TMI, sorry. But if you're squeamish about poop talk you'd do well not to read anything written by runners). My stomach held up for the first half of the race, though my legs felt heavy right from the start and my brain was not into it at all. Luckily I somehow managed to keep up with Alison, Todd, Danielle and Anne for most of the first half and this made the internal struggle worthwhile. It had also gotten pretty warm, though there was a nice breeze so I didn't feel too sweaty. I did go through all the water in my hydration pack, but the TrailsRoc aid station at Buttermilk Falls was just ahead and I knew I could refill my water and refresh my spirits there. The whole first half I'd been thinking just get to the TrailsRoc aid station and then you'll have no choice but to keep going to make it back to the car. That's the good thing about out and back courses - once you go out, you have to keep going in order to get yourself back.

I knew it was going to be a long, slow slog back to the start/finish at Robert Treman. And it was. I had started the race emotionally and physically depleted and 13 miles of running over logs, up stairs and ridiculous hills and through some sections of especially putrid mud had not helped the situation. I felt guilty for not running with Pete. I had been training so hard and I'd wanted to run my own race, but then I just spent the whole race feeling like a selfish and shitty person. My stomach hurt on the way back, but that probably would have been fine if I'd been in a better mood. It was a constant struggle to keep a positive attitude during the whole race, but more so in miles 13-27 when I was mostly alone. My Dude brain was all look at all these amazing trails and these amazing people! Waterfalls! Pine needle forests! Some guy in a tree! A dog! More dogs! Did I mention waterfalls?! But then the mean voice would be all everything is amazing here but you. Why are you even here? You don't belong here. You need to drop from Many on the Genny. You can't run 40 miles, even if something was chasing you. And then the Dude brain would be like yeah, totally. I'd just give up and be like okay bear, go ahead and eat me. I don't wanna brag but I'm seasoned to perfection over here, I mean check out this dried salt all over my neck.

Important aside: Super Infinity of thanks to the incredible volunteers and spectators, especially Jeff, Amy, Sheila, Eric, Picasso, Barb, Jim, Ron, Sean, Dave, Katie, Tim and Diesel. Every time I saw a friendly face it was like a hit of the best pain-relieving and mood boosting drug.

Thanks to Sheila for the pic! And being an awesome sauce spectator/volunteer!
I had an unusual pain in my left foot (when taking off my shoes after the finish, I found a stick in there so I'm hoping that was what caused the weird bruise I found on the ball of my foot), my stomach was crampy and my legs were fatigued, but nothing hurt that much. I've definitely run through worse. Sometimes the runs where you feel less than stellar are the most valuable. You learn that things can fall apart and you can still keep going. I don't think I ate nearly enough during this race, but I just didn't feel like eating. I did drink coke and that helped a lot. Though when I say drank, I really mean spilled all over my face and legs, as apparently I am incompetent at drinking from a collapsible cup. I was purposely trying not to look at my watch and just focus on forward motion. My brain was getting a little foggy and I kept feeling paranoid that I was lost. The course was super well marked and there were flags all over, it was just mental fatigue and my own terrible sense of direction taunting me. I was being hypervigilant about looking for flags. I didn't get lost. Actually, I even corrected this one guy ahead of me who took a wrong turn. I did however, almost die no less than 8 times during this race. There were so many times my foot caught on a root or slipped in the mud, my heart and several expletives leapt into my throat and I was sure I was going to go down hard. But every time, my body adjusted and righted itself. Effortlessly. Like it was nothing. Stabilizer muscles for the win. I am just a middle of the pack runner. But I am so thankful that I get to do this, that my body is capable of doing this. Even on the days when it feels kinda shitty, it is still awesome.

I almost cried at several points during the second half of this race. Especially when my watch said 24 miles and the volunteer holding the flag on the bridge said "Only 3 more miles back." Fuck. So I guess this is going to be a 27 mile day instead of a 26 mile day. Stupid trail miles. Can't just be 26 miles. Gotta be 26ish. Ish gotta be a whole other fucking mile today. Of course it does. I told myself I could cry when I got to the car, for now I needed to save that oxygen for breathing. I did finish. And I did cry in the car. Until I had to run to the bathroom. Except I couldn't run, so I had to hobble to the bathroom and spend some very uncomfortable minutes there. While also being thankful there were real bathrooms here so I didn't have to do this shit in the woods or a busted porta-potty. I washed my face and hands, cleaned the mud off my legs, hung around at the finish line with friends and felt almost human again.

Pete finished strong. I always tell him he's a better runner than me. I train incessantly just to be a mid-packer. He can run a hilly, stair-y beast of a marathon even though his longest run this year has only been 12.5 miles. He asked me how I'd done and I told him my time and he said offhandedly "Oh, I thought you'd do better this year because it wasn't as hot." Even though rationally I knew he didn't mean anything by it, I started to cry. It was like someone had voiced aloud what I'd been thinking in my head for 27 miles. I thought you'd do better. At friendship, at life partnership, at human-ing, at life. You should be better. We left shortly after Pete finished, as we had a long drive back to Rochester and we were both tired. My stomach was still unhappy, which was kind of a blessing since it's more socially acceptable to excuse yourself by saying my stomach hurts instead of my heart hurts. I was sad to leave my friends. And ultra finish lines are so inspiring. People do these crazy, impossible things and make it look easy. But I also needed food and rest and home. We stopped at a store to get crackers and chocolate milk, then to pick up a pizza for dinner. The much needed calories vastly improved my mood. After sleeping for 10 hours, and a short yog Sunday morning to reassure myself that my legs still worked, I felt much better.

My finish time was not entirely terrible. Pretty similar to last year, though that's a silly comparison since it wasn't the same course and I'm not the same person as last year. I am admittedly disappointed at myself for being in a funk and not enjoying it more (I did however thoroughly enjoy wearing my toucan shorts for so many miles. Thanks to Chris for being my outfit twin! He looks much better in the shorts than I do). But that is running, that is life. All I can ask of myself is to do the best I can with what I have and keep going, keep trying. Because I'm so unbelievably lucky to be here, in the presence of the awesomeness that is all of you.

Lyric of the moment: "If you're lost you can look and you will find me, time after time. If you fall I will catch you, I will be waiting, time after time..." ~Cindy Lauper "Time After Time" (Because it came on my iPod right after I almost fell for the final time and I was like Fuck, almost died again. Thank you body. You're the best.)

Friday, June 2, 2017

I would run 26 miles and I would run 40 more

This month I have two big races: Cayuga Trails Marathon tomorrow and Many on the Genny in 3 weeks (many = 40ish, if all goes well). I signed up for Many on the Genny a full year ago and since then I've run the highest consistent mileage of my life. I've done hill repeats and squats and chin-ups and long runs and even a few speed workouts. I got a piece of glass stuck in my foot. I got a piece of glass out of my foot. I ate ice cream for breakfast. And for second dinner. I got pooped on by a bird. Is it enough? Probably not. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't nervous about these races. Even though I know that's silly because really, who cares? I don't feel worried about my time or finishing place. I can't really control that. I may have a great day, feel great and run well (for me). I may have a shitty day, feel shitty and have to make my own sweetness out of the suck. I feel worried because I've been so tired this week, weighed down by stress and other people's expectations, which I'm failing to meet. But then! I was saved yet again from my trainwreck of thoughts by the awesomeness of people. I stopped to get an iced latte on my way to work (full disclosure: we have coffee and chocolate milk at home. So really the latte is just an excuse to pet Millie, the dog who frequents the coffee shop with her human) and a woman who works there (or is possibly the owner? I'm not sure) said "I haven't seen you in a while! Do you have any races coming up?" (Eeek! Yes, yes I do. But why, for the love of cake why, did I think I could do these things?) I don't know how she remembered me or even knew I was a runner (maybe from the not-so-subtle smattering of stickers on my car?). Add in some lovely texts from incomparable human/friend extraordinaire Laura and I finally relaxed.

I don't know what's going to happen. Maybe I'll get lost and fall into the gorge (I mean, hopefully not. Also, this is why we need a zipline). Maybe I'll meet a bear and we will eat peanut butter sandwiches and he will follow me home (Dear Universe: hint, hint!!!!!!!). What I do know is that it's going to be exhausting and excruciating and exhilarating and most excellent. And there's no place I'd rather be. Running is my joie de vivre and my self-care. Some people de-stress by getting pedicures or taking baths. I register for races that are out of my league and then spend a lot of time getting sweaty and muddy and talking and laughing and being ridiculous at 5am. Because filling the unforgiving minutes with distance running and people transforms them into extraordinary moments.

The truth is it doesn't matter what happens on June 3rd or June 24th. It doesn't matter how slow I run those races or whether or not I finish. It matters who I became in training for them: Someone who is not much to look at from the outside but who strives to be braver and more benevolent and bigger on the inside. Someone who knows that vulnerability begets strength and temporary discomfort begets awesomeness. Someone who refuses to be contained by limits or doubts or shoulds. Someone who got to run 19 miles up and down Richs Dugway and swing at Hopkins Point at sunrise and jump off into the snow (and have hilarious trail conversations where Mort says "Treasure hunt me!"). And hopefully someone who can run for a really long time, loving every minute of it.

Lyric of the moment: "Gentle storm, rage away. And fall in love with me every day..." ~Elbow "Gentle Storm"