The Race That Cannot Be Named

I’m going to be running the &(%^ #$@? 100. It’s hosted by running legend ***** ****, who finished the (*&*&Y^& KKJGIYG 100 in 20 hours. That’s pretty intense. Okay, I’ll at least give the name of a race this mysterious RD ran in 20 hours, the Western States 100. There are oodles of meaningful 100 mile races that kind of set the mark where legends come to test themselves. For the rest of us mortals, it’s where you go to beat yourself, overcome your own bullshit, DNF and go home. Of those, a lucky few will feel good about it and try it again, or never try it, or any other 100, ever again.

This is my 100th post on this here Fifty State Banana blog. I win a bag of onions. Woo hoo! I’m crying. Oh my god I’m so excited and I’m crying with my bag of onions. 100. Wow. I have lots of free time.

That’s what I heard, anyways. I don’t know. I’m not going to put anyone on about this. I expect it to be hard, and this will be my first one. I just figured if I were to fail, I wouldn’t be wasting a lot of money and other people’s time with my wussery. So, I signed up for this one because it was hard to find, was basically free, and hard, really hard.  I had a really cool acquaintance who volunteered to crew at my first 100. That’s amazing and generous. She just ran her second marathon in November 2012, and was getting that ultra bug. That’s what it’s about. But when I told her about the race, shw was like, “No aid stations? don’t do it, that sounds crazy!” And she’s right. I’m not able to disagree with her sound advice, but I can argue with myself all day long. The more I thought about the race, let it bounce around in my head, it rather quickly turned from being something I immediately labelled as “trainwreck, stay away” into something more. I feed off of the energy of the challenge. It’s a shame I can’t mention the name of the race, but the RD asked that no one blog about it, don’t write any cute reports about it. Keep all the toys in the box.

So, this is all I can do.

I used to work as an extra in films and movies and had to keep the information about production totally secret until the shooting was done. It made the work much more exciting. I feel the same way about this race. I’m fit to burst.

So, there’s no aid stations. There’s no “medical tents”. There’s no awards. There’s a bunch of miles, one hundred miles. I have to figure out how to do this on my own, do my own dirty work. So be it. I can dance around some of the specific details. If I were to give you exact information you could probably google it, show up and try running it and die somewhere. And then a zombie at mile 85 would eat part of your fresh corpse and make of your desire a noble sacrifice. I’ll be running mostly single track, using a headlamp through the night. There will probably be only three dozen runners. Of those six, maybe seven tops are trying the full 100 mile course. Spread out over nearly 30 miles, we’ll all be incredibly alone. Somewhere not in Pennsylvania, not where I’m training, nowhere I’m even remotely familiar with.

I don’t want to fall victim to hyperbole, but the extreme nature of the event basically intrigued me to the point where I haven’t even told my immediate family what it would entail. No one in my family runs. If I told them the specs, they’d just nod the same way they nod at me when I tell them about a ten mile run. It’s all alien to them. I had an aunt who did ultras when she was young, but she wouldn’t know about this one. It’s been around for only less than a dozen years. The length is sort of one hundred miles, but a little bit more. Elevation? Over 7,000 miles of climb per marathon, then throw on at least a couple of more 1,000 miles of climb. And then more. There are river crossings. That’s okay. I trained for this race before I ever knew about it. I used to go run into coopers Rock State Park by jumping in Cheat Lake, swimming to the old Mont Chateau trail head, and ascending up the trail to the snowy decks along the summits of rock city, go back down again, plunge into the lake, swim to a road, and get home. I’ve crossed rivers that swept me away, swept me over falls, stupid shit I’m happy to have survived. I imagine I’m training for future races I’ve yet to learn about. Until my body gives up my ghost, I’ll be searching it for answers in these races. So, when I get up at 4 am tomorrow for a 13 miler, and Saturday for a 30 miler, and Sunday for a 20 miler, I’ll be thinking how to run the routes cleaner next weekend, and the next.  I have three hard weeks between me and this race. The two weeks I taper down are to recover from the abuse I hope to inflict upon myself until the 21st, when I start the taper. So, really, it’s not that bad, 19 more days of grit. I’ll run approximately 212 miles between now and then, mostly over hills, at least 25% in snow. Tomorrow is 10 miles in 6-8″ of snow, with a few hills.

I’m really excited to have received in the mail today my in-line water filter so I can fill up my water pack bladder with water from either one of the two creeks on the loop, or the river at the checkpoint. I can drink dirty water through the filter. I can even put drink mix in the bladder, fill it with water a dead deer is floating in, and drink it. I can stick the filter directly into a ditch and suck muddy water through it. Straight country livin’, son. So, water’s not a problem. I can always pack the bladder with snow. The race consists of four loops and a mile or two jog to the trail head/starting/finish point to log your loop. Around that area is the river (I keep bringing it up, obviously freaked out by it – I know it broke most everyone who fell in it), and the the cars are close… So, when you fall in the river, and you’re freezing – because the race is held in the mountains in February – you’ll wuss out and jump in your car, and that will be that. You’ll be defeated. I’ve seen pictures of the people in the water, and heard they quit right afterwards. Seen them drinking beers and laughing. Sweet Jesus, please let me beat that river.daddy is a wussy 2

I thought I’d make a sign with a picture of my son’s face on it and post it on a stick and pound it into the ground at the start/finish/checkpoint like a war banner to touch on every loop. I’d have to confront that face 4 times to redeem myself.

It’s a way for me to keep my priorities straight.

I’m not coming home with a finisher’s medal or anything I can dangle in front of my five-year-old son’s smiling face to show him that I’m a winner. I have to basically look him in the eye and say I did the toughest race I could get my hand on. I really hope this turns into the kind of race that I look back on and realize was a pivotal event.

But for those of you reading this who’ve already run a 100 miler, I can only imagine how sad and wussy – or hilarious – this raw portrait of need and misguided aspiration might seem. It’s like I woke up, went outside to check the mail and decided, “Fuck the mail, I think I’ll go slay the Kraken.” And then got smeared into a red stain underneath a blackened, gnarly talon, so puny the beast didn’t even know it had killed me. Would in fact not even care.

I want to put my name on the list of finishers.

I’ll just keep going, keep eating, sing a bit, walk the uphills, and keep chugging along. Like a wino.

I’ll just put my head down, watch the trail, disregard the hallucinations, and think of the shame my ancestors must feel knowing I still had 36 miles to go.

I’ll just fill up my water bag, eat some salmon, talk to whoever is mumbling on the trail ahead of me or behind me, and keep going, and stop yelling at the feet.

I’ll keep walking that dark trail at 3 am down the hill, fall over, lay there a moment, get up, stop crying and put my diaper back on and crawl forward.

So, I’m training up to a 70, a 75, a 75, and a 50 taper and a 30 taper week before the event. I run in the snow, in all cotton, in shoes wet from the long 15F run I did the day before with my dick literally frozen to my pants, my hat frozen to my face. When the run hits, I’ll be used to much more extreme cold, so the river will provide me with relief. I run every single day, with new resolve, and I am dialed in to run no matter what. Oil paintings and other hobbies are quietly awaiting my return.

When I finish this run, I’ll be tied up for a while because I’m expecting the arrival of my second son April 2nd. I’ll recover in March, maybe hit a marathon right around St. Patty’s Day, run the Pittsburgh marathon in May if I can raise a grand for the Alzheimer’s Association, and hopefully get into the Highland Sky 40 Mile Trail Race for my third consecutive run. Come back and really roar through it this time. I’m…already thinking of this thing in terms of its potential to ready me for another challenge. In that context, everything, absolutely everything is achievable.

My goal is to run the Oil Creek 100 in November 2013, so this race is a warm up. A place to quietly test myself on a course that I’m not allowed to discuss, out of honor of the sport of ultra running, and some people who will try to do the same. My blog would just cheapen and defile it. Too many assholes sticking their grubby keyboards and hash tags in it, setting the run up to be extracted, merched and besmirched. So, I’ll leave it at that.

Everyone has days when they say to themselves that Today I am going to run my ass off and then they go do it, and there’s nothing sweeter, nothing better than having a chance to enjoy deep country, wild places, and settle the bets on who’s got more inside to give. I want to join others trying to make this happen. Every year, someone finishes…but sometimes no one does. Usually it’s just one if any finish.  One person! That’s lonesome, but I guess everything after this challenge will be bittersweet. I won’t be able to rid myself of the memory of this challenge, nor will I speak of it with anyone but those who ran it. Even then, it’ll be probably just pleasantries. Some silences, some long and hard-won silences are golden. This is one of those quiet journeys one takes inward.

I’ll just finish the race, grab my silly sign with my boy’s face on it, put it in my car, drive home and be happy to see my family, to help them succeed in their challenges.

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