Friday, November 19, 2010

Reflections on life, death, injuries, and other lightweight matters

(Disclaimer: My title was stolen from the VHTRC list-serve)

For the past few weeks, the VHTRC listserve has been filled with e-mails about Mike Broderick, a Happy Trail member who recently died of lung cancer, only 4 weeks after he was suddenly diagnosed, and who just completed Western States four months ago.  Stories like that hit everyone, even newcomers like me who didn't know him, because ultrarunners like to think we're strong, invincible, and able to overcome whatever life throws at us... even death. All my housemates went to the funeral, friends changed their facebook pictures to photos with Mike, and paid tribute through a blog post. It was sad to see my friends mourn a loss of another running partner, friend, and coach.

Within a week of his funeral, I got a text message from my cousin that an old friend of mine, Anne Jackson, a cross country runner at Nyack college in NY, collapsed while out for an evening run and died before her family made it to the hospital. She was a senior in college (with a 3.97 GPA--holy cow!), 21 years old, and had not a bad bone in her body. She was young, healthy, and there was no known pre-existing condition. It was so sudden and shocking, and her friends, now scattered across the country, are mourning the sudden loss of a runner and friend. I can't imagine how her family, close friends, and teammates are handling this tragedy. My thoughts and prayers have been with them every waking moment since hearing of her death.

Yesterday, after hearing the news, I stumbled onto another blog with a tribute to Mike, and I was almost angry. His life shouldn't be mourned; he had really lived, he had fair warning, he completed races around the world and had touched so many lives that police were needed to direct traffic to his funeral. Anne was too young, it was too sudden, and it all of it too shocking and unfair.

I became friends with Anne through our church when I was around 14 years old. She was two years younger than me, but we had the same group of friends. We lived near each other and so we would often carpool to events or meet up on weekdays. I have so many wonderful memories that include her, and I don't remember one in which she was not smiling... looking through her facebook pictures, I swear that she is glowing in every one.

Moving away from home to go to college is tough. She stayed close friends with everyone in Buffalo, and was the Maid of Honor at our friend's wedding earlier this year. Unlike me. I barely talk to my friends anymore. I think a comment on a facebook photo about the beautiful wedding pictures is sufficient... I didn't even send a card. I envy her ability to stay close with our friends, and I've been hearing from them throughout the last 24 hours. Things like "I feel like I should tell you I love you..because I do! and I never said it enough to anne..and I certainly don't say it enough to you." What kind of person does it make me that I haven't spoken to people that I considered my best friends five year ago, in years? Is it time and miles that bring people apart, or is it people?

And what of the friends and relationships I have now? Already, since it isn't as convenient as when we were in college, I make little room for my closest girlfriends and sorority sisters. I'm fighting an injury, and I wonder what will ever happen if I am out for months on end. If I get seriously injured, will I keep my friendships and ties with the running community I've jumped into, or will I lose them as friends too? I am thankful that while miles have hurt friendships in the past, they build friendships today.

Runners are supposed to be patient people. When we get injured we should build miles up slowly. We shouldn't race too much too quick. We all schedule only 1-2 big races a year. I keep getting told I don't need to do every big race in my first few years of running. Recent events have put into perspective that maybe we shouldn't be patient. You never know when you'll get injured, get in a car accident, or have one of your vital organs fail you. I might not be able to run Western States in 2012 or 13... and it's awful bold to think I will be.

Last night, I wanted to go out for a run for Anne. In a way, to let out all the frustrations of the week and the sadness that I feel guilty for feeling. I walked for about 5 minutes and then tried running again. I was able to run for about two minutes before my IT band felt tight. I stopped and walked home, knowing that the only way it will heal is by resting it. After just completing my 100 mile race (101.87, actually) less than two months ago, I've had to deal with a tight IT Band that kept me from doing well at MCM and kept me out of my running shoes for weeks. Even though I have never felt more strong and able, I cannot overcome this injury.
And that's what I've learned recently, as a runner and a person, that even when we feel our stongest, we're still weak and fragile.

Monday, November 1, 2010

MCM - Halloween edition

On Sunday, I ran the Marine Corps Marathon for the 3rd time.  I wore my friend Ann's bib, and removed the chip.  Yes, this is generally frowned upon but it's not my fault marathons tend to have giant sticks up their ass and charge a ridiculous bib transfer fee.

On Saturday night I was inspired to dress up like a zombie.  This is why I wanted to do MCM to begin with! I went to CVS to buy black eye make-up and red lipstick when I ran into Brian, who was on his way to get a bib from a guy in Arlington.  I was excited I'd have a housemate headed to the race with me. I made my costume: I ripped up a 5k t-shirt and shorts, lined the rips with lipstick, and wrote "First rule of Zombieland: CARDIO" on the back. 

We decided to leave a little late because I'm always sitting around the start line forever. But, I didn't anticipate a 15 minute metro wait. We were totally screwed. We got to the Pentagon City metro at 8:05 when the race had already started. It wouldn't have been so bad if we knew where the start was. We were in a car with two guys and we all ran out of the metro station. When we got to a broken escalator (typical) the two guys ran up it when Brian and I slowed to a walk at the exact same time. We burst into laughter... it was the most typical road runner v. trail runner scenario imaginable.

There were no directions to the start. We were running around, hitting dead ends, and wearing ourselves out. Finally, we figured out the route to the start, and we were probably 2 miles into the run. As we neared the start, a spectator yelled "You're almost there! You can do it!" #clever

Brian and I jumped into the start just moments before the police cars that trailed behind the last runners.  There was a sea of slow runners and walkers to work through for the first several, several miles. Brian disappeared ahead of me (and finished in 3:09! Incredible!) and I let go of any hope of getting anywhere near my PR or a BQ time. It was like a fartlek: run slow behind a group then speed up the moment a window opens. My only forseeable problem at the time was a blister that already bothered me at mile 3: the most epic blister ever! It literally takes up 1/3rd of my foot.

The race flew by. I couldn't believe when we hit a new mile marker. I got a little bored, started a few conversations, listened to some good music, and started a list of why I like trail running better.  This is what I came up with:

Trail Ultramarathons
Road Marathons
Better aid stations with food and awesome volunteers who feed you and fill up water bottles.
More water stations so you don’t have to carry water—but almost no food.
Made a wrong decision and wore old shoes?  Change them at your drop bag.
Made the wrong decision and wore old shoes?  You’re fucked.
Lots of trees.
Lots of spectators with funny signs.
Run alone or with a group of friends.  Single-tracks usually get crowded at the beginning but thin out over the first few miles.
Run through massive crowds with people cutting you off and getting knocked over.
Built in walk breaks up mountains.  But, this means more time on your feet.
You have to run it all—and fast.  But, at least you can run it fast.
You have to carry all your garbage.
Volunteers pick up all the garbage.
Friends, housemates, or boyfriend chauffeur me to start.
Metro.  Fuck.  Metro.
You can’t get lost in a loud iPod.  People might need to pass, and you need to listen for rattlesnakes and bears.
You can just ignore everyone and blare your iPod to get you through the race… even though they discourage it.
You can find your friends easily; there is hardly anyone else there.
Trying to find one person in a sea of 35,000 people is impossible.
The trail is gentler on your body.  Unless you’re running on rocks.
The constant pounding on roads hurts more.
Always exciting with falls, wild animals, mountains, stream crossings, etc.
You run a road the whole time.  Sort of boring.
You are sleep deprived and bleed real blood.
To look like a zombie you need black eye make-up and red lipstick.
Pictures from event are free
Pictures from event cost at least $40.
Gear is more expensive.
All you need are the running basics.
Usually in the middle of nowhere.  Requires rental car.
Located in accessible cities.  (Metro.  Fuck.  Metro)
You run through streams.
You run on bridges over rivers.
At mile 19 you realize you have 83 miles left.
At mile 19 you realize you have 7 miles left.
Better value per mile.
Usually very expensive.
Serene and quiet—unless running with Snipes.
People bring cowbells and scream at you as if muscles feed off noise.
After the finish, you can sit right down and start drinking beer and eating food.
After the finish, you are stuck in an unmoving crowd for an hour.  Still standing.
At sunset you are still running.
At sunset you are on the couch watching a movie.

At mile 22 I ran into my hasher friends and I hung out too long and had 4 (or 6) cups of beer. I ran into thisamazingday and stopped to chat.  I thought my 4 hour goal was totally do-able.  Then, my IT band really started to act up and I was really slowed down at the end. I pushed through it and unofficially finished in 4:00:32.

At 6:00:32, I made it through the start area and headed to Chadwicks where I drank several glasses of champagne, then stumbled/limped home (it was to make my costume better, I swear). But I woke up this morning with sore quads, and achy IT band, a swollen ankle, and low energy. It doesn't matter if I proved I can run 100 miles, 26.2 still isn't easy.