Monday, November 1, 2010

Cactus Rose 100 Race Report (Part 1)

As I write this, I am listening to Laura Nyro's "Save the Country" - a great song by a great artist - and I am struck by a particular verse:
I got fury in my soul./Fury's gonna take me to the glory goal.
I dig it. I, too, have fury in my soul, and after this past weekend's DNF (stands for "Did Not Finish") at the Cactus Rose 100 Mile Trail Run, I am more determined than ever to become the best ultrarunner I can be.

How can I express all the things that are running through my mind - the anger, the pride, the joy, the sadness? I'm a bundle of emotion, all tightly bound together, with no way to exorcise the pain or get away from it. But, I'm okay with that. I don't want to avoid the agony. It's characteristic of ultrarunners, I think, to face pain and process it, embrace it and learn from it.

"Can you run 5 miles in an hour?" The question was sort of laughable. Of course I couldn't. I had been running for well over 75 miles. My quads were screaming. I could feel two big blisters on the bottoms of my feet. I just wanted to stop. But something told me not to throw in the towel. Here I was at the main aid station (nicknamed "The Lodge") which served as the start and end of each 25-mile loop. I had taken a shortcut from Boyles to The Lodge to call it quits. There was no way I was going to make it the five miles from Boyles to the Lodge in time to make the cutoff. No way. The officials at the Lodge looked at me with concern.

After being lost in the Bandera wilderness for nearly six hours, I had finally made it to Boyles. I wasn't injured and I was in fairly good spirits. But, I had spent so much time being lost, wandering aimlessly through the nasty, rugged trails of the Texas Hill Country that I now had only an hour to make it to the main aid station to meet the cutoff time to start the fourth and last loop of the race. Why did I take the shortcut back here to the main aid station to quit instead of just running the damn five miles? Was I really a quitter? Did I not have the right stuff, the stuff to finish? It was just five miles. Oh, but what a five miles! If you've ever run the trails of the State Natural Area in Bandera, Texas, you know how grueling those five miles can be.

The terrain is rocky, unforgiving, and extremely technical. There are almost no flat running sections. You are either clamoring uphill or tearing, trying not to tumble, downhill. I hear it is one of the toughest race courses in the country. Five miles in one hour? I don't think so. When I realized the certainty of my defeat, I walked the quarter-mile shortcut back to the Lodge to tell them I was going to have to quit. But, something felt wrong just giving up like that. I had worked so hard to get to this point. All my training, all my time and energy and money... I couldn't let it all go to waste. Besides, I felt pretty damn good. Aside from my legs being a little sore and my feet hurting, I was in great shape. I had to give it my best shot. I snapped.

"Drive me back to Boyles. I'm going to do the five miles," I said.

"Okay, but you have to make it back here by 7:15 a.m. to start the next loop," the race official told me.

"I understand."

I stuffed my pockets with energy gels and PB&J sandwiches and refilled my water bottles. I jumped in the passenger side of a truck that pulled up and got a ride back to Boyles. Once there, I very quickly jumped out of the truck and began ascending Boyles Bump, a grisly little 300-foot climb. Then, I shot down the side of the hill, only to encounter another hard climb, a repulsive roller called Cairn's Climb. I ran like I've never run before. I was bawling. Angry tears fell hot down my cheeks. I knew it was all in vain. No matter how hard I pushed, I knew I probably would not make it in time. But, I had to try. The sun was coming up now. The fiery red of the horizon struck me as an odd sight to behold, reinforcing a startling fact: I had been running for over 24 hours straight.

Those five miles stretched on forever. I had a lot of time to think out there. Mostly I thought of my friends and family. I thought of Steven Monte, Dave Carder, Lee Irons, and Lynnor Matheney, who were also running the race and who, I knew, were out there somewhere, in pain, like me. I thought of my dad, who, just a few weeks earlier had his leg amputated due to complications from diabetes and who wanted to be there to support me at the race so badly that he mustered the strength and courage to make the trip to Bandera just to see me run.

I thought of my mom, the strongest person I know, who has loved and supported me through all my triumphs and failings and who, I knew, would be there for me at the finish line no matter what. I thought of my sister, who brings joy to my heart even in the darkest of times. I thought of my friend Aleia, paradigm of loyalty and love.

I thought of Lisa Smith-Batchen, one of the most amazing athletes I know of, a strong and loving person, who has accomplished so much and who will always remain my greatest inspiration. I thought of Shannon Farrar-Griefer, a badass ultrarunner and beautiful woman, whose determination to endure is nothing short of amazing. I thought of Eric Clifton, an uncompromising athlete, who runs the way he wants to - fast - and will settle for nothing less than his very best in a race.

I thought of all these people. And I kept running. Always, always, moving forward...

Part 2 to be posted soon.

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