The bedside clock reads 3:30 am. I’m staring at the numbers, adrenaline kicking in. This is it. I swing my legs out of bed, stand up, and tip toe down the hall, down the stairs avoiding the creakier ones so as to not wake anyone in the house, steal into the kitchen, and, in three minutes, I’m changed, dressed, and washing out the bladder of my water pack. There might be a touch of white vinegar left in it. I clear the drinking tube, but not thoroughly. I down two cups of coffee. It tastes wonderful. I put a scoop of raw honey in one, a scoop of coconut oil in the other. Boo-ya. I drink my cereal down in a power gulp, grab my watch, some  snacks and a sippy cup, fill it with 12 ounces of water, screw the lid on. Apply anti-chafe. I’m on time. It’s 4 am on the nose, so I decide to waste ten minutes online, letting the coffee settle, then head outside.

The weather is perfect if a bit humid, 49F. I strap my headlamp on, light up my feet and start moving. I don’t set my stopwatch. This is a 50K out-and-back from my front door. The streets are totally empty, and thick fog shrouds the blocks ahead of me. I run down the street, striding by an old castle and head down an abandoned brick road to and through the old, abandoned ruins of downtown Brownsville. I pass on my right the center’s two blocks of four and five story marble and brickwork commercial buildings built 100 years ago, shoulder to shoulder, completely blocking any view of the river behind it. The ground floors of the shopfronts are all behind huge plywood sheets painted brown (wow, brown) applied with blast nails. There’s a mural of children’s silhouettes cavorting beneath a large and glowing sun that stretches the length of all the buildings along the plywood facade.  It’s practically right on top of them. One figure is reaching up for it, a gesture of hope. Brownsville is dead, and downtown actually feels ten degrees cooler. Haunted by shattered dreams, and so on. The fog obscures the abandoned buildings off to my left. I pass the welfare high rise and hit the old iron bridge, The ice is gone. Three days ago it was very risky to cross, but not now. I crossed into West Brownsville and head up 88 to CALU’s cross country track. Three miles from my front door, at the crest of the second of two big hills. This morning I’m only planning on doing the flats on college’s tracks.

I ran eleven miles yesterday on the course, so I know what I’m in for. I made sure to wear my street flats. Mud mayhem, but I need a soft ride.

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Moments later I fell from the wall.

The creeks and drains are all roaring with snow melt, and the fog is diminished on this side of the river. Good thing I’d dressed light.

I got on the trail. I tried to stay on my toes as much as possible because my heels slipped like mad in the mud.  So, I kept my stride short and sweet, doing the scarecrow, none to limber. I was hoping the mileage would loosen me up. But, when I loosen up, I start increasing my pace, so I have to keep dialing it back down. I love 10Ks and half marathons. This is different. I’m training for a 100 mile race, and I have to back off the speed. I let myself run fast twice a week this month, and it aint happening today. I’m rolling through the course, ticking off the miles on an old telephone cable spool thrown alongside the course. I have a rock, my baby bottle, and a Sharpie resting on it. The spool was saturated, so I couldn’t get anything going with the Sharpie, and so I let it lay there next to the hash marks I scratch into the spool with the rock Running smooth, taking in a little water, an ounce or two every mile or two. I’m up to fifteen marks, each representing 0.93 miles, when I decide to head to the Oasis. I’m a little more than half-way to my goal.  It’s starting to get light, so I shed the headlamp and leave it at the spool. There’s no one around to steal it. I grab my sippy cup and do a laggard’s run across the fields in the direction of a giant hill of soupy mud rising up thirty or forty feet. The sunrise is on it’s way, and rabbits are scattering ahead of me, their muddy feet kicking into the mire, little babies everywhere. I empty a plastic bag containing a Tbsp of Heed into the sippy, and some spills onto my hand. I lick it off my fingers like, well, a baby. Melon-flavored Heed is crack cocaine. The rabbits are running, I’m licking my fingers and climbing the hill, nearly losing a shoe on the ascent in some deep sucking mud. I get to the top of the hill and admire the deep firepit and benches surrounding it, There’s a stack of wood.  I survey the environment. The clouds are moving north at a good clip, growing rich warm hues, fluorescent, vivid against the pallid grey blue of the morning. Every sunrise deserves a set of eyes. I slurp down half the bottle of Heed, give myself another ten or fifteen seconds to admire the sunrise reflecting in all the puddles on the fields, then jog back down among the rabbits, across the expanse of cut green grass towards the spool, where I’ll drop my unnecessaries and hit the course again recharged.

No skunks. That’s good. No deer. I saw fresh tracks from a group that beds down nearby, but I guess I just missed them. It’s a juvie buck, a doe and a fawn. I run this route enough that they don’t get spooked by me anymore. They retreat a reasonable distance when they see me coming. This time next year, if they’re still around, they won’t even care anymore. The trick with wild animals, if you’re so foolish to approach them like I do, if you don’t want to scare them, make yourself known. Talk to them so they can hear you, in a calm, steady voice. Predators sneak up all quiet, so, do the opposite. I lived in a heavily wooded area for a couple of years in WV and talked the deer within ten feet of me before I move to PA. Rabbits are skittish. The skeleton of a rabbit and a cat looks almost the same, save for the head, and feral cats act even more fearful than rabbits, I don’t know if that’s a sign of intelligence or disgust, and they scatter just as easy. Anyways, back to the trail, I’ve knocked down 15 of the 27 laps. I’m muddied up to my shorts. The trip to Mud Mountain Oasis and back is 0.68 miles. The distance from the track to my door is 2.98 miles, so I’m running 31.77 miles including the 25.11 on the track.

Thank goodness I can’t smell any cooking from houses in the neighborhood, because I’m starting to get hungry, a distraction.

I have a banana, a packet of 12 almonds, four of five GU packs, a diminishing supply of water, and 4 of 5 electrolyte capsules. Real comfy. I am holding out on using anything, getting as close to headache dehydration and crampy legs and torso as I can safely get, actually trying to hit the wall, trying to find the limit. All the while I’m taking mental notes of muddy rabbits, clouds, idle cops in a cruiser hiding next to a utility shed by the track, the feel of the ground under different puddles, trying to appreciate everything and enliven my thoughts within the thresholds of waning interests in anything other than the agony. I look at a leaf in a ditch and say to myself what a fine example of leaf it is. I haven’t had a day off from running in a couple weeks, and did a good eleven the day before, so this isn’t the easiest 50K.

Legs no fresh, you come back tomorrow, okay?

I finally bonk at mile 27 and unleash the banana. I actually start moaning as I devour it. It’s so sweet and soft, the pulpy mash is just amazing. I kill the rest of the Heed juice. Mile 29, I take a GU only for the caffeine. I’ll want to feel that when I’m running the hard shoulder back home in a few minutes. I eat an almond. I’m experimenting with different foods. So far, I can take in anything if it’s not too acidic, so pop and orange wedges are no go. A month ago I ate a slice of pepperoni pizza, a king sized Reese’s cup, a flaky, buttery cherry turnover, and a big chocolate cookie on a run, just stuffed it all down, and waited to see what would happen. Nothing, except I got slower. Same thing here. I eat food, and I want a nappy. I gallow walk on the way home, a minute per mile, every now and then yelping from fatigue. Back at the bridge, the temperature strangely drops ten degrees as I cross over the Monongahela River like I just emerged from a sauna. The cool is a welcome luxury. I got ninety-nine problems, but the temp aint one. I pass through the dead center of town. Traffic is heavy, I don’t know what time it is. I haven’t checked my watch since I arrived at the track hours ago. So I walk up the slippery brick road, then jogged back to the house. I ran a PB, a 5 hr 40 minute 50K, besting my best official time by about 45 minutes because the terrain was mostly flat. I have to do it all over again next Saturday, same place, same rabbits. I hope to do that run with nothing but two bananas, a lot of water, and one salt tablet. The less I need to get through 32 miles, the easier it will be for me to get through 104. Run, rabbit, run!