Update: After reading this to my loved ones (you know who you are), I’m going to retract my pledge to never race again. I have been reminded that one should never blog within the first 72 hours after a bad race lest we are forced to eat our words and then have to blog about that, too. I hate it when my family is correct. But I stand by my statement about ginger ale and racing sucking.
So the North Coast 24 Hour race did not go as planned – good and bad. I ran like crap, chafed like never before, drank three liters of ginger ale, and then quit at 12 hours.
I only regret the ginger ale. (Okay, the chafing wasn’t great, but a whole post about it might be somewhat of a turnoff for our non-running friends, don’t you think?)
Early on, like hour 6, I knew this was a no-go race for me. That is one of the benefits (curses?) of a 24 hour race versus a fixed-distance race – within the first few hours you know if you are even remotely close to doing what needs to be done to get the desired result. Because you’re racing against the clock, the splits you need to hit are very specific. It’s black and white – you are either killing it, or you suck. This weekend, I sucked.
When I went through (across the timing mat) at four hours, I saw that I was about twelve minutes behind, not insurmountable, but a pretty big hole. And I knew that things weren’t going to improve. With 90+ percent humidity, and temperatures heading into the 80s, this desert rat was going to suffer.
At hour six, after a change of shoes, a reapplication of Desitin/Vaseline, and a pep talk from Tim/Karen/Howard, I had a heart-to-heart with myself:
Me: What’s up, buttercup?
Self: Why do I keep doing these races? I hate to race.
Me: Because the elusive “perfect race” is always on the horizon. Next time, with better training, better strategy, a better outfit, we will have race nirvana and then we can retire happily. Drink some more ginger ale. The sugar will put your head back on straight.
Self: But we’ve had good races, and we’re still out here running around in circles. Why? And I don’t want anymore ginger ale. In fact, I hate ginger ale. It’s what they give you when you have the flu.
Me: Okay, enough about the ginger ale. Sheesh. And we’re still racing because every time we have a good race, we decide not to retire, because there might be a “perfect race” around the corner.
Self: Did I mention I hate to race. And ginger ale.
Me: Yes. Yes, you did. To anyone, and everyone, who would listen. In Texas, we call that bellyaching.
Self: Do we?
Me: No, but it sounds better. Really, it’s just whining.
Let’s just say, nothing improved from there.
The chafing got worse (way worse). The day got hotter. I got further behind (funny how you don’t rack up as many miles when you start throwing in some walking). I drank more ginger ale. And I got more tired of my own bullshit.
So, I started walking with people I like: Roy Pirrung (we were on the 2008 and 2009 US Teams together – love him!), Stacy Costa (who I didn’t know that well until this race, but after spending many loops with her have decided she is one of my favorite people), and Liz Bodnar (who became my beacon of hope every time we crossed paths on the course – her company made the entire race experience worthwhile).
But the icing on the cake was getting to see Howard Nippert, our manger of the 2012 US Team. Howard is a legend in ultrarunning, having been on 11 US National Teams (!!!!), and the current manager of the US 24 Hour Team. Howard is the calmest, and most competent, runner/coach I have ever been around. I set up my stuff in his tent, and he and his fantastic wife, Karen, helped crew me (along with Melanie Raab and Laurie Dymond).
Howard and I talked for a long time about the hunger it takes to race, and what you do when the hunger is gone; what to do when the hunger to run still pushes you up the mountain, or down the road for hours on end, but goes missing when you step foot on a race course; what to do with the knowledge that you are only racing out of ego and not love. Howard, a better runner than I have ever been and a wiser person than I will ever be, understood all that. Howard will forever be someone I want in my corner, even if I never set foot on another race course.
Finally, as miserable day turned into miserable night, I knew that I was kidding myself – nothing was going to pull me out of my hole and I simply didn’t care enough to slog through it anymore. My legs were now openly oozing (I know, sorry, so gross), the conversations with myself were no longer amusing, and I did not want anymore FREAKIN’ GINGER ALE!
Really, the ginger ale was my breaking point.
I don’t care enough about racing to keep drinking, eating, doing, things I don’t like. I used to want it so badly that I was willing – no, happy – to eat, do, drink anything, ANYTHING, just to have a great race. And now, I don’t. I’m not hungry enough to suffer the way I used to, the way that is necessary to ignore the whiny voices in my head. The way that it is necessary to consume three liters of ginger ale.
I want steak. And cake. And ocean swims. And long runs where there is no “agenda”. And legs that aren’t oozing.
In the dark, in Cleveland, Ohio, I realized I can still be around people I adore, meet new people that I’ve missed my whole life without even knowing it, and obsess endlessly about running without having to “race”. I can run without having to try qualify for a team, or attempt a record, just because I love to run. I can dream, talk, and write about running without a “plan” or a “purpose”. I can just run.
And I don’t have to drink anymore ginger ale.