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"

1 comment:

  1. Hi Jen, I just registered for Many on the Genny 2019. I came across your race report and was surprised to read about the hiking family that gave you watermelon. That was my kids and me :) I enjoyed your report, but cried when I got to the part about your dad. I'm sorry. I just wanted to reach out and say hi. Will you be running this race again this year?