Monday, June 24, 2013

A Wet Cold Nightmare in Hell

“Physical Discomfort Is Important Only When The Mood Is Wrong.”
This quote adorned t-shirts my dad got for me and my brother one Christmas. I don’t recall whatever happened to my shirt, but I never forgot the message. And on various occasions I have muttered the phrase to myself to try and get my mind back to a good place when my body is  uncomfortable and my mood is very dark.

Like at the Hallucination 100 in aptly named Hell, Michigan last September.
After I decided I was going to apply to the 2013 Badwater 135, I gained one strong item for my running resume when Star and I crewed racer Chris Moon at Badwater last summer. But even though I had done several 100 milers, I still needed to get one of these completed within 12 months of applying to the race.

Hence, Hallucination.
Although it is every inch of 100 miles, this race doesn’t have the major elevation changes, super technical trails or severe conditions sometimes found at others. It also starts in the afternoon, which I kind of liked so I could get the dark over and done with sooner. Hitting nighttime after 15 hours of running at ultras that start at dawn really knocks my body rhythm for a loop, but this time evening would only be a few hours away.

Finally, it is a loop course, so I would see my crew chief (actually my entire crew!) Star every three or so hours, and she would even get to pace me in the later part of the race.
So off we went at 4 p.m. I started steadily, just cruising along, enjoying the day, staying comfortable, my mind in a good place. Several miles in, going through a field, I saw several runners ahead of me jumping up and down, and could hear them shouting. When I reached the point where their impromptu dance party was held, WHAM, I began doing my own jig, as the source of the fun was found to be a swarm of bees.

Luckily I was only stung once in my left lower leg, but it was right at the top of my sock where it touched my ankle. Each step the cloth rubbed the spot, which began to swell and itch. Not comfortable.
At least it was early enough in my race that I was not troubled with any other discomfort, so I shook it off and continued.

The course suited me very well. I really do not like trail running all that much, but just when I started getting frustrated or bored, the route switched to road or bike path. Then, after a while, when I felt I could endure some different scenery, it changed back to trail.
Eventually I got through Loop 1 and met up with Star. I felt good. She even noted that my mood seemed upbeat. I was running smart and enjoying myself.

Starting loop 2 and as happy as I get on trails.  Peace, man.
My time at the aid station was fairly brief. I got some food and drink, loaded up on food items I would carry for later, and took off on Loop 2.

Out on the course it was more of the same. Just a good day that was starting to turn to night, albeit darkness was descending a bit quickly as clouds had begun to form overhead. I was not only still feeling good, but I knew after this loop Star would be joining me to run Loop 3, so I was anxious to get this one completed.
About ¾ the way through the loop, the darkness of the clouds revealed their treat – rain. It was light showers, but it was still wet, the bane of an ultrarunner’s existence. That is unless you like feeling wet clothes sticking to you, cold chills, and chafing for hours and hours.

I emerged from the woods to the most welcome sight – Star, dressed in her gear, ready to join me on Loop 3 despite the rain! Knowing she would be with me eased my mind immensely. This weather was not going to foul my mood after all!

Pacer to the rescue!
A quick refueling, and off we went. Along the trails. Onto the roads and bike path. Back onto the trails. The two ultra-amigos, doing our thing, just running along in the rain.

La-la-la, la la yuck … Yeah, after a while, even our happy little corner of the world began to suck a bit. And as the rain worsened, it began to suck a lot.
Star remained encouraging, telling me she was so proud of me and doing all the things a pacer does to lighten the mood for a runner who even under the best circumstances starts to go to some bad places.

Trouble was, she wasn’t just wet from the rain, she was getting increasingly cold. I was too, but she suffers from a mild form of Reynauds, so the cold isn’t just uncomfortable for her, it hurts. Circulation to her extremities becomes limited, causing her hands and feet to turn bright red and painful, her lips purple, and she must get warm.
As we pulled into the aid station after completing Loop 3, I knew where things stood for her even though she fought the reality of the situation. She was done pacing, and was going to have to go sit in the car with the heater on to get warm. She felt terrible, like she was abandoning me, but I explained to her that I would feel worse if she DIDN’T take care of herself. There was no benefit to her continuing, even if she could, and it certainly wouldn’t help me worrying about her when I still had 50 miles to go to finish this thing.

Ah yes, me finishing this thing.
Before she went to the warmth of the car, we grabbed our clothes bag with dry gear, and headed for the only shelter available at 3 in the morning in the rainy campground that serves as race headquarters – the cement block restroom/shower building.

I went into the men’s room, and Star followed. The heck with decorum, and besides, no campers were foolish enough to be up, and any runners would understand.
The restroom was warmer than the outside temperature, but I was soaking wet, and began to shiver. I stripped off my wet clothes, toweled off the dampness, and pulled on dry items as Star ran the hand dryer to warm herself.

Slowly we began to thaw and I started to feel better. And that was bad. See, I was warmer and dry. And I knew what lie ahead of me as soon as I walked out that door. Wet and cold.
Full disclosure: this photo is actually from the start of the 2012 Rocky Raccoon 100.  But yeah, that's exactly what it looked out outside the bathroom door.
As if on cue, the door swung open, and in came a camper to pee.
He was surprised to see someone else up at this hour, and very surprised to see a woman in the men’s room.

“Sorry, we’re just trying to get warm,” I said. “No problem,” he countered, and walked down to the end of the room, leaving us by the sinks.

When he returned, he noticed all our wet clothes and saw us trying to get warm.
“You runners are crazy,” he said. “Yeah,” I countered.

“You know if you aren’t having any fun you can always stop,” he said as he opened the door and headed back into the rain.
Yes I could. And that is the moment when my mood changed.

Badwater was my dream. Unfortunately at the moment I was in the middle of a wet, cold nightmare in Hell, Michigan at 3 in the morning.
I was at that proverbial fork in the trail, road and bike path. I could heed the point raised by my peeing compatriot and quit and be comfortable. And with a flush, my dream would be gone.

Or I could change my mood, forget the discomfort, and do what I came to do.
As I exited that warmish restroom during the rainy early morning hours in Hell, the temperature suddenly dropped, and my body immediately became wet. Strangely, I barely noticed.

And in a couple weeks, when I am on that dry, hot road in Death Valley and I am most likely very uncomfortable, I will run my thoughts back to that night when I was so wet and cold. And when I do, I feel fairly certain that my mood will change.
That, my friends, is the power of dreams.

1 comment:

  1. "I could heed the point raised by my peeing compatriot and quit and be comfortable. And with a flush, my dream would be gone."
    This my favorite blog post to date. It gives so much insight into the "crazy runner's" head. Cheering you on!