Sunday, August 26, 2018

Green Lakes 50K: Colonel Mustard with the vinegar next to the penis

The short version: We were carrying our stuff back to the car after the race and I said excitedly "I pet a dog! It was a white boxer with one blue eye and one brown eye. It was so cute!" Pete, who already knew this, as I had mentioned it several times before, said "That's your takeaway from today - you pet a dog?" "Honey," I replied "The last loop of this race, I ate: a packet of mustard, Mountain Dew with a pickle juice chaser and an Oreo - that's gross. All my cells are broken. The dog was the best part of my race."

The long version: "Fuck!" I exclaimed. I'd meant to mutter it under my breath but the excruciating pain radiating from my calf had made it come out louder than I'd intended. It was mile 23. I'd been trying to stretch my calves, which had been twitchy since my third loop, on a log at the side of the trail. Now the left calf was charlie horsing hardcore. I couldn't move, I couldn't get the muscle cramp to subside. A cascade of thoughts rushed through my brain. What did I do wrong? I took Huma gels early on, then salt tabs, then pickle juice. I drank a lot of water. Maybe my mitochondria have gone on strike, they're just like we have formed a union and we're done with this running for hours bullshit. I'm going to have to call Pete to come get me. Well, back in the day I did "run" the last 8 miles of a road marathon with pretty much every muscle in my body cramping. So I could totally run through this. Maybe I could, but do I want to? I think I'm just not cut out to be an ultrarunner. It shouldn't feel this hard. Maybe I've forgotten how to run. Maybe my body just can't do it anymore. But I want to do it. It's my favorite thing to do. 

And you may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?

Green Lakes 50K is a 4 loop course in the beautiful Green Lakes State Park. I cannot overstate how gorgeous this park is. The trails are well groomed and very runable (well, if your muscles are contracting properly). The loop takes you past the clear blue-greenish waters of Green Lake and Round Lake, then up to the grassy field area called The Serengeti (because it gets super hot when the sun is beating down. I was hoping Toto's Africa would be playing during this part, but sadly that only happened in my head). I signed up for this race because I just really wanted to see the park. And because Valone said he was doing it. Pete was looking at the park map because he was planning to mountain bike up to the far aid station and I pointed to the route and explained "Here's the course: run around a penis, then a ball, then weird Texas."

Course map: Penis, Ball, Weird Texas

We drove to Syracuse on Friday after work and stayed at the Econo Lodge, which I'd picked because it was close to the park and cheap. We'd only be there to sleep basically and I never sleep well before races so I wanted to pay as little as possible for a place to not sleep well. Pete was unhappy with this choice. He is not a fan of the dingy, crime scene-esque motel room. I was just like "It's fine. Probably no one has been murdered here." We were not in fact murdered there. And the front desk lady who checked us in was super friendly and nice.

The 50K and 100K races both started at 6am. The first mile was magical. It was a cool 65 degrees and I felt great, running through the woods watching the sunrise over the lakes. For most of this loop I was chatting with two guys running the 100K (because that's how fast the people at this race are - their 100K pace is my 50K pace). Running and talking to people are my favorite things, so anytime I get to do both is fantastic. The first loop went by fast. Probably too fast for me. When I saw the time on the clock as I passed the timing mats, it was way faster than I was expecting so I told myself I should slow down. Evidently I did not listen to myself, since my second loop ended up being in about the same time as the first. I kept telling myself to run my own race, but then I would get distracted talking to people.

During the second loop I was chatting with two ladies about how it's unfair that women have to worry about running alone in the woods. I said "Why are there so many self defense classes for women but there aren't any 'Don't be a creepy rapist/murderer/kidnapper' classes for men? I mean obviously other than the fact that no one would go to a class with that name." They were moving along faster than me and eventually I dropped back to do my own thing. I'd missed Pete on the first loop because he'd gone up to the Serengeti to see me but I'd gone through too fast. So I texted him that I was on my second loop. When I went though the finish line on loop two, he was waiting for me and showed me where he had set up the tent (while we were out on loop one, Pete and Lisa had set up all our stuff for us. They are the best!)

Things were starting to hurt at this point, but I grabbed some food and water from the aid station, put in my headphones and just got in the "this is painful but it's fine" zone. As I was showering at the Murder Motel the night before the race, I was nervous about running my first ultra in over a year and unintentionally ended up giving myself an internal pep-talk: I just don't want to have a miserable experience tomorrow. Well, that's totally up to you. You don't know what's going to happen, but you get to decide how you feel about it. Maybe I was just trying to distract myself from thinking about what else may have happened in that motel shower. But whatever, it worked. When I got to the Serengeti the third time, Pete was waiting for me on his mountain bike. He rode along side me for a bit and I asked him to please stop videoing me. I wanted to tell him that I was hurting and I didn't want to complain on video. I told him I wasn't made for ultrarunning like other people are and he was just like "You're running an ultra right now. You're doing great!" I asked him if he would meet me at the main aid station and help me refill my hydration pack (why do my hands always stop working correctly after like 20 miles?). I told him about my twitchy calves and he said he would make sure to find me some pickles. Seeing husband man was a big morale boost and I made it back to finish the third loop still moving pretty well. Pete refilled my hydration pack while a super awesome volunteer poured me some pickle juice and I headed out for one.more.loop.

Photos by my favorite husband man

And then I got to mile 23 and the "Fuck!" heard 'round the penis. As I'm thinking my race is over, a runner behind me asked what happened and I told him that my calf has seized up. He pulled a packet of mustard out of his pack and told me to swish it around in my mouth, explaining that the vinegar would trick my brain into unclenching the muscle. At this point I would have eaten whatever magic beans he was handing out, so I did what he said. And it worked. My calf loosened and I could move again. I thanked him and started running cautiously. Colonel Mustard saved me with the vinegar next to the penis lake! I didn't get his name, but I saw him after the race and thanked him again profusely. I jogged along gingerly, not wanting to anger my calf again, and every mile or so I would suck on a bit of mustard and sing "Relax" by Frankie Goes To Hollywood in my head. I drank some more pickle juice at the Serengeti aid station. By this point I'd ingested so much vinegar I was practically pickled. My last time through the Serengeti seemed to take It was hot and sunny out at this point, and my pace was basically that of a pickle as well. My calves were still kinda twitchy but I kept pleading with them to hold up for just a 10K, just a 5K, just one more mile, and thankfully they obliged. I kept myself occupied making hilarious (to me) penis jokes. Oh man, it's so hot here. I can't wait until I get to the shady penis. That's what she said. No, no one has ever said that. Finally I left the Serengeti for the last time, made my way past the ball lake and then the penis lake (Which seemed to get longer and longer with each loop. Guess it was a grower.), then around the beach, past the parking lot, and up the paved path to the finish line. I was so tired I kept running even after I crossed the finish line. I just wanted to get to and hug Pete.

I didn't die!

Physically, I felt terrible for much of this race, but mentally I was just so happy to be out there. Every time I hit a rough patch where my cells forgot how to work or whatever, I'd see someone that would lift my spirits: Valone and Shari out on the course, crushing it; Mintz and mini Mintz out cheering and volunteering; another woman in toucan shorts!; a man with a giraffe tattoo on his calf!; a ton of awesome people just out running and hiking and SUP yoga-ing in the park, So! Many! Dogs! I may not be cut out for this endurance running shit, but I'm going to keep doing it for as long as I am alive. Because my whole life has been an ultramarathon. Sometimes excruciatingly painful, always beautiful and awesome and filled with the most amazing people.

I spent about as much time running as I did hanging out at the park afterwards. The finish area was great, right next to the beach. I did a lot of walking around (to the lake to put my legs in the cool water, to pet cute dogs I saw, to get more snacks and beverages, to wash the salt off my skin - I was sooo salty), laying around awkwardly on top of the foam roller, and hanging out with Pete and Lisa. Pete introduced me to Tammy, who had set up camp next to us and was crewing for her husband. She and her husband had done Mind the Ducks and I told her I'd banana-ed there this year and she said excitedly "I have a video of you on my phone!" then showed us a video from MTD of Bob and I dancing in our monkey and banana outfits. Small world! I got to pet a white boxer with one blue eye and one brown eye! And his little dog friend, Solo, who I was told is friendly, but doesn't like it if you turn your back to him and walk away, so you have to walk away facing him. I got to see Shari and Tom and Valone finish - they were all amazing! My race execution was as imperfect as possible, but it was a perfect day. And I lied before. The white boxer was not the best part of the day. The best part was being surrounded by love. The love of running through the woods with friends and strangers who immediately become friends. The love of my favorite husband man, who is game for all my weird adventures. The love that exudes from every pore of Valone and Lisa. Watching Valone finish having given everything he had to this race, and run to hug Lisa then all of us, was better than 1,000 dogs.


My cells refused to work properly for this race. But I had a good outfit, a good attitude and good friends. And most of the time, that's enough. Additional thanks to a terrific RD, lovely volunteers and a gorgeous state park.

Until next time, my friends. May there be so many next times.

Lyric of the moment: "I do it for the joy it brings. Because I'm a joyful girl. Because the world owes me nothing. And we owe each other the world. I do it because it's the least I can do. I do it because I learned it from you. And I do it just because I want to. Because I want to..." ~Ani DiFranco "Joyful Girl" (There are so many answers to the question of why I love running for hours and hours. But mostly, it is this.)

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