"I run 17 miles every morning. People ask me how I keep my teeth from chattering in the wintertime. I tell them I leave them in my locker." - Walt Stack
So, after completing the much blogged about Southeastern Trail Series here in Birmingham, I was ready for a break. The last race came a few weeks ago with the Tranquility 50k, and when I somehow came across that finish line, I thought "well, that's enough of that for a while". My legs were tired, I had completed what I had set out to do (complete the "Long Series" - the longest races), it was almost the end of the year, and I figured a little break was the (cough, cough) smart thing to do. In other words, I was just ready for a little break. In 35 years of running, I hardly ever plan for breaks, but my ankles were telling me that if I want to keep doing this stuff, it might be a good idea to back off a little bit once in a while.
The problem lies that I have the mind of long distance runner and that mind is a long way from my ankles. Any of you out there that are in the same endurance boat as me know what that mind does...it warps any rational thinking into making you believe that every run that comes along that is marathon distance or longer, in the woods, up a mountain, through a creek, from sunrise to sunset, has got to be a good idea, right? For some twisted reason, you have to do it. So, here I was, literally a few days after the Tranquility 50k (my 3rd 50k of the year) and I am reading about the race being put on by our local club, BUTS (Birmingham Ultra Trail Society). We just formed this year and our (free) membership exploded. I can't tell you how many members we have because pretty much you said you wanted to be a member, liked the Facebook page, and voila! you're a BUTS member! Ok, back to the race, the Bearly Ultra Trail Run, a 27 mile run (get it? Bearly ultra? Bearly intentionally spelled wrong due to the Bear Logo) at Red Mountain. Now, I had every intention of NOT running this race, UNTIL I saw that because it costs money to do some of the cool things BUTS did this year, like buy beer and reserve State Park sites, and order shirts, and buy beer, we were going to have to start charging a nominal membership fee (not yet determined). Now here's the baited hook - if you run the Bearly Ultra, your dues for '14 are paid! Now, I'll gladly pay $100+ a couple of times a year on new running shoes, but I'll drive across town to save a dime and the twisted mind says "hey, pay the 50 buck entry and get free dues (never considering that dues will be way lower than that). So, the hook was set and I HAD to run another race before the end of the year.
I didn't let my feet in on the secret until the morning of the race when I began to go through the race rituals I've built up over the years and they got wise..."Hey, Al, what's with the PB&J sandwich followed by a banana? And you NEVER pin your Dad's Purple Heart Pin to your shorts unless you're racing. And why all the Gu? One or two are usually enough. Something's up, isn't it?". The truth is, I put in far fewer miles before this race then I usually have. And mentally, ha, that's a good one. I figured, Ok Al, just get out there and get 'er done. The course was 3 loops of 9 miles each with about 900' of elevation. The first 3-4 miles of each loop was pretty hilly, but no crazy-ass climbs like in David Tosch's Series Races. I figured, as I'm slow as cold molasses and my ankles just don't like hills, each loop would be around 2:45 each (told you I was slow). THEN, on the Thursday before the Saturday race, Dan Ripple, the RD, sends out a last rah-rah email to everybody, and there, buried deep in the email, was the tiny print of cutoffs he was instituting...nobody could start the 3rd loop if they finish slower than 5 hours for 2 loops, and there was an 8 hour race cutoff! OK, this meant absolutely nothing to no one because they're all way faster than that, but now my gut said whoa Nellie! Yeah, like I just thrive off new pressure.
December in Alabama should have cold, brisk wind from the North, but this day brought temperature in the 70's with a chance of thunderstorms. Fortunately, this is my favorite weather, so good so far. Then, my buddy, Moha, decided at the last minute to join me for at least one loop. He had run the Rocket City Marathon a week ago and hadn't put in a running step since. If you're a (semi) reader of this blog, you know that Moha and I (known as lost brothers) have put in thousands of miles together over many years, but his balky knee has kept him off the trail for about 6 months. It was great to have him show up. Back to the race...two miles into it, the two lost brothers took a wrong turn and got lost and did an extra 1.3 miles ("Just wanted to make sure it was an ultra...27 miles was cutting it too close"), so right off the bat, we were behind and had to pick it up (ha!) to make up for lost time. At 4.5 miles of each loop was the BUTS Aid Station, music blaring, cheese & bacon quesadillas cooking, and all the support and fun any runner could ever want. Plus, they had my all-time favorite aid station food - watermelon! Because we had picked it up, we actually did our 1st "long" loop in a speedy 2:21.
Moha decided he felt pretty good to do another loop..."I'm ok". "How's your knee?". I'm ignoring it. It will learn". The 2nd loop was not as pretty. My legs were reminding me that I have one speed (or slower) and although I was trying to push harder, all that came back was "I'm givin' her all I've got, Captain" (Scotty, Star Trek, 2009). Moha kept pushing me despite my whining. Mo is from Iran and although he's been here for a couple of decades, if he, or I, gets tired, we get hard to understand. At one point when he asked me to repeat something for the 3rd time, I said, "God Moha, learn the damn language" at which point he calmly says "If I haven't learned it by now, I'm not going to!". It was funnier at 17 miles.
We struggled that loop, I was close to toast and we finished the 2nd loop in 5:02 (remember the lately instituted cutoffs?).
Big Dan, the Evil RD: Good going Al, you made the cutoff!
Me: No, I didn't
Dan: Yes, you did!
Me: No, damn it! I didn't
Dan: You ran extra the first loop. Go on.
Me: Rules are rules. What about people behind me?
Dan; Ain't nobody behind you. Get going!
Mo had to get something quick from his car and I made an effort not to loiter, so I told Mo he'd catch me. Now, I've been running ultras for 30 years so I know how to get in & out of aid stations quick. At this point, I found an even faster way...just forget to fill your water bottle! Yep, a half mile down the road I realize I have an empty bottle...CRAP!! Do I run back? No, there's a big time factor there and a HUGE embarrassment factor. Fortunately, the race Gods were just having fun with me, because heading back towards the start is David Christy, the best dang Race Photographer in the world (See his site here). He poured his whole water bottle into mine...what a literal lifesaver. Moha caught me and the 3rd loop actually went better than the 2nd. It never fails to amaze me, but when you're dead tired, with many hours and miles behind you, if you're with a friend, you can still laugh and genuinely have a great time eating the rest of the race up. Folks doing 100 milers often talk about being dead at 60 miles, but their pacer got them through...and I think what the hell did they talk about for 40 miles? Nothing and everything, that's what! Went through the BUTS A.S. for the third time...had watermelon for the third time, slammed down a couple of Mt Dews and was off. When we went through the marathon distance, Mo announced "Good, now I don't have to run for another week!".The two sweepers, brother/sister Jimmy & Lisa, caught us, but we nosed them out at the tape. We always seem to bring in the sweepers. We finished in 7:44, well under the the dreaded cutoff.
For a race I really didn't necessarily want to do, once again, it was a great memorable time. In just about all my races, there comes a time when you just want to chuck it all, but every single doggone time, you cross that finish line and you have no clear recollection of feeling terrible. You can say you felt bad, but you don't feel it. All you feel is "God, I love this sport".
Tomorrow morning, I'm getting on a plane to Boston for Christmas, and you know what? I'm not bringing my running clothes. No running for a week...just playing with my grandkids. Should be a ball. Hope you all have a great holiday.
I'll see you on the roads - AL
"One child lost is too many...One child saved can change the world"
1 day ago