18 July 2012

RR El Scorcho 2012, Code Name: DFL

Honestly, so much happened last week in Texas that I'm having trouble processing it all. Some of that is because I came home with a whopping big coldish bug that will not leave my throat and head alone, piled on top of which is the fact that my freezer defrosted while I was gone, so I have to scrub strawberry blood out of every crevice of my freezer and fridge, and have lost an entire spring's worth of fruit that I'd frozen or made jams and jellies out of. Not to mention, the ice cream. This is truly a tragedy, one that I don't have the energy to comprehend right now.

So anyway, there will probably be a few posts on various other Texas shenanigans (because there were many, involving blogging friends old and new, learning to two-step, and a particularly memorable evening that culminated in getting driven home by the mayor of Rockwall...but we won't mention that...)

Meanwhile, back at El Scorcho, I immediately fell in love with this race when I met the RD, Jim Newsom of the Ft. Worth Running Company, who promised they wouldn't feed my dead body to the coyotes. I also scared the crap out of him by walking in off the street from 1500 miles away and knowing whose race bib he was holding in his hand to complete a waiting-list transfer.

Jesus is everywhere. And this is his bib.
The rest of the week was pretty much like an old blues song recorded by Rory Block

Double back to Fort Worth. 
Change cars on the Katy. 
Leaving Dallas, Texas. 
Coming through Rockwall. 
Now to Greenville. 
All the way back to Fort Worth, Texas. 
I'm on my way. 

 as I dropped off the enormous and excellently cool rental Jeep Liberty I'd driven down to Austin (see: other epic shenanigans, above) and exchanged it for a whole other world of trouble, otherwise known as my friend Jusko. As the member of our ever expanding and morphing group of running friends I knew least going into this gig, Jusko turned out to be the only one who actually was able to make this race, though he wasn't running it himself due to injury, except for our friend Chuck, who was running the 25k La Scorchita. Chuck is very quiet and unprepossessing, which can get lost in the chaos of our very...um, personality-heavy group, but he is a true friend--one that managed to find me in a tent city of several hundred spectators and participants, not having laid eyes on me in person since fall of 2007. And a good thing too, since I don't run with my glasses so I wouldn't have recognised him.

I got a delightful surprise about twenty minutes before the race (while I was scoping out the bathrooms, of course, which will surprise precisely none of you that know me) when Jusko said he was planning on running the first loop with me. I suspect this was more out of wistfulness than the actual desire to motivate me or keep me company, which he knew probably better than I did I would need later on in the evening. Er, morning. Whatever.

Oh wait. Let me back up quite a bit. 

Have I mentioned this race starts at midnight? Yeah. And it was ass-crack dark, to modify a recently learned phrase from a friend (hi Gunz!). Speaking of Gunz, he sent me a series of very encouraging and often hysterically funny texts in the days and hours leading up to this race. How can a girl not love a coach who makes her crack up just by remembering something he texted her earlier in the week, somewhere in the middle of Mile 22? ("coughcoughobama?" won't seem funny to you, but at 5 in the morning, more or less in context, it was almost as good as "ass cancer" and definitely did the trick.) He wins the prize for Person Most Likely To Put Up With My Whining While Simultaneously Handing Me a Straw this week. Probably this whole training period. He narrowly missed the Person Most Likely To Be the Recipient of My Bitching About Other People in General award by dint of the fact that I sometimes complain about him to Nita, on general grounds that he's a guy, so he occasionally needs bitching about. Nita, of course, can not in any way be confused with a guy.

So there I was, lined up at the start with Jusko, whacking frantically away at a Garmin that wouldn't unfreeze. Just how I want to start a race. I don't know what its problem was, but I handed the thing over to Jusko as we trotted along (the gun having of course gone off while I was having mechanical problems) who set it right and handed it back to me. Thus there was about a third of a mile hacked off the beginning of my record of this race. There was also almost a mile hacked off the end of it, when the battery died. Yes, I was out there that long.

I knew from the very first mile that this was not going to be a good race for me. It wasn't that I had a longer, steeper taper than usual, which I did. It wasn't that my back was bothering me, because it wasn't. It was the sheer heat and stupidity...er, humidity...the very thing that makes El Scorcho El Scorcho. And I knew this going in, but somehow it didn't really sink in until twelve minutes and eighteen seconds later, when I told Jusko that we were going to have to slow down, because, dude, I had 30.1 more of these to do yet. It was darker than a donkey's arse, thirteen minutes after midnight, and 86 degrees. It was going to be a very long night. Jusko had an advantage of not only being literally twice as fast as I am, but also for all intents and purposes a native-raised Texan. He was used to this crap. Still, he was very kind and followed my lead. 

The 25k start was ten minutes later, and it was not quite the end of the first loop before Chuck caught up with us while Jusko was fulfilling the dream he'd undoubtedly had all week of putting his hand up my shorts: I had decided that there was no way in fuck I was going to be able to wear a singlet, and he was repinning the bib to the leg of my compression shorts. I had started out in my Marine Corps Marathon 2011 singlet, because I wanted every single one of my fourteen or fifteen dearest running friends with me on this journey. You all are my inspiration, and my life is fuller for having known, run with, drank with, laughed with, cried with, prayed with, fought with, loved fiercely and too well or not well enough, and usually made up with you. (On that last one, I hope we still can someday. We miss you.)

My plan was to run each loop dedicated to a person or group of people. This isn't something I usually do, but I figured I'd need a little extra to get me through the night. And boy I was right.

Loop 1: Loops for MCMs with Straws. You know who you are. I don't need to say any more about this. You've had my back every day for five years now, and you had it more than ever Tuesday morning when the shit hit the fan and you showed me something I didn't properly appreciate until then, which is just how much I am loved. You humble me with your fierce love, your unruly tenderness, your unwavering sense of humor, and in some cases your probably literal willingness to kick ass and take names if necessary. Also, the joke about the cat on a stripper pole.

Loop 2: Dropped Jusko off, grabbed a peanut butter Gu at the campsite, and headed out. Loop 2 was for Len. Why? Because he's Len. It was Loop 2 when I settled into the grind, alternating between running and walking, because there was no other way this was going to happen, and it was Len who taught me that we are in this for the long haul, and when all else fails, you dial it back and live to run another day.

Loop 3: More Gu. Some Cytomax. Loop 3 is for Charlotte and Bill. They've had a heck of a year healthwise between them, and as two of my favourite people on this planet they do not deserve the crap that's been shoveled their way of late. Loop 3 is also where Chuck lapped me for the second time. For the record, I was trying to spit out the scraps of Gu wrapper stuck to my lip into the trash can when you saw me, not puking into it. How Chuck recognised me from the back while running at that speed after I'd dropped off my shirt is utterly beyond me, excepting the fact that I was probably the only short, stubby person running this race. I'm pretty sure he's never seen the lizard tattoo, so that couldn't have been it. After loop 3, I ditched my racing headlamp because I hadn't needed to use it, it was taking up space in my asspants, and anyone else could see me coming because of the incandescence of my pasty white abs.

Loop 4. Oh, loop 4, you sucked hardcore. Through the biggest, twistiest straw I have ever sucked. The heat was getting to me. My body was also remembering that it was, like, three in the freaking morning. I was hydrating just fine, but I wasn't retaining nearly enough salt. Hmmm.  This resulted in more walking than running, because I could not catch my breath and get my heart rate down to within normal range. Any time I started running, I got lightheaded and dizzy and not quite tunnel vision but definitely changed vision. Hmmmm.  Appropriately enough, this loop was for Jerry, who I miss like hell. No, it's not because you make me feel like puking.

Jusko had parked his tent just prior to the finish line, so loop 4 was also the longest loop timewise, because of what happened next. 

What happened next is I kicked Jusko's sock-foot through the open tent door and told him to wake up and get me some damn sea salt and vinegar potato chips before I passed out. My job was to fall over into the camp chair and have some water and try to catch my breath. He basically spoon-fed me some chips when I kept dropping them, and sat and talked to me while I sucked wind and prepared to meet my maker. I have no idea what he said, and it doesn't matter. What matters is that it kept me relatively oriented. Still, I was not in a good way. I had told him prior to the race--more than once--that after about four laps I was going to come into camp a bitch on wheels, and that his job was to feed me, pat me on the head, and point me out towards the course again, no matter what I said to him.

Instead, we crossed the trail and went to medical. Because I seriously wanted oxygen. I have never in my life gone to medical during a race (and I only went to medical on my own behalf after a race once, and that was because I landed on him when I fell across the finish line) and I sure as hell have never thought that a cannula sounded like a good plan, but I was seriously fantasizing about two oxygen prongs up my nose at this point. Hmmmm. I know I did a shitty job of expressing to medical what was wrong, because they kept asking if I had chest or shoulder pain, or tingling fingers. No, I'm not having a heart attack. And no, I do not want more goddamn water.  I understand that dehydration is probably the number one health problem they get into the van, but I'm damned if it's a problem I'll ever have. The medic couldn't find my pulse on my wrist. Hmmmmm. She then spent about another five or ten minutes trying to get it to track on her iPhone app. (I think she stopped worrying seriously about me when I looked her square in the eye and said with as much animation as anyone had seen out of me all night, "That is bitchin.") She couldn't get it to register a pulse on me. 


Finally, a good fifteen minutes and many salty, salty potato chips later, she registered my pulse at 117. During this time, Jusko and I seriously discussed the possibility of my stopping the race after 25k--one last loop--and bagging the thing. The idea had a certain appeal. And then I thought of Len. And Nita. And Gunz. And oh fuck. There was no way that was happening. I was not going to puss out. The only way I was leaving early was if they carried me, and sadly I'm not stupid enough to let that happen (I know, because I tried). So I stopped the aborted attempt at crying (which wasn't successful, because, you know, salt, so fortunately I don't think Jusko even noticed it) and told the medic I would check back in after the next lap if I still felt bad. The potato chips were starting to do their thing, and so I trundled off into the wild black El Scorcho yonder.

Loop 5: Loop 5 was my Run 4 Joy, because sometimes you think things can never, ever possibly get any worse than they are....and then you catch a breath and are somehow able to keep going.

photo courtesy of Gunz K

Loop 6: Again with the kicking of Jusko to wake him up, because he'd promised (while squirming out of loop 5) that he'd run six with me. "Six and ten, baby, six and ten." But who the hell wants to be woken up out of a sound sleep at four AM to run three miles at half your normal pace? Not Jusko, apparently. Fine. Loop six isn't for you, anyway, it's for Nita. Who, in all fairness, warned me about most of this, and couldn't possibly have foreseen the rest. Oh Nita, honey, if only you knew how right you are, and how different this last week would have been if you hadn't been there for me all eight hundred times I needed you. Oh wait, that's every week. By loop six I was starting to get a little, well, loopy. The first half of the course kept getting shorter, and the last half of the course kept getting longer. What was with that? I'd get to the truck of whooping guys with the Eminem tunes shouting out encouragement to me, making me believe for about seven or eight strides that I really was ripping it up, and to Greeny the squeaky-toy sock monkey (hi Greeny! I was totally counting laps by you) and I'd feel ok. I'd think, "Oh, I'm here again, already." And then I'd have to go under those underpasses again, and through the utter damn darkness in the trees, and up the hill, and across those three bridges, and up the other hill, and....just damn. Also, I increasingly had to pee in places there weren't places to pee. Not that this has ever stopped me, but still. Loop 6 is also where the memory of something Gunz had texted me three days earlier made me cackle hysterically into the darkness, scaring some raccoons who were engaging in illicit raccoon activities.

Loop 7: Didn't even bother to wake Jusko. Frak this, man. I'mma just get me a Clif bar and keep going. Lots of race support out there, men who love me back because I tell them I love them when they hand me Gummi bears or a cold towel. You know, the simple, mid-race kind of love. You know they are runners too, because they get it. They get that a whole, entire 16-ounce bottle of water fresh out of the cooler may have just saved your sanity, if not your faith in the entirety of the human race. They ask you if you want them to put another one back for you, for the next lap. Loop 7 is for all the spectators, who made this one of the best races I've ever had a shitty time at. For serious. 

....until, suddenly, it does. Five more times.

Loop 8: rhymes with hallucinate. By this time, there were very few of us still out there. I spent some time alongside Mario, who was one of the very select few running the unadvertised 50-mile race. Mario's advice and encouragement to fellow runners was traditionally "Keep on, keepin' on." Because of that simple phrase, I had a change of plan. Loop 8 is for Maura, for the eight years she's been gone from her family, and for the loved ones who want her home at any cost.

I wasn't going to wake Jusko up until the last lap, because I knew he'd take that one with me, but when I pulled into camp at the start of lap nine, there he was, bright eyed and bushy tailed. He said he'd walk the last two with me (because, yeah, by then I was almost entirely walking, my plantar fascia in my left foot making itself known in a very disturbing way, not to mention general exhaustion and poop-ed-ness) and that he'd catch up. I forget what he had to go grab. I just kept hobbling on, doing what I do. Crossed the mat with four minutes to spare for the 50k cutoff. Jim gave me an amazing jazz-hands greeting, which turned to mild dismay when I told him I still had two laps left. (That's six miles, for those of you keeping score.) "Are ya gonna keep going?" he asked.

"Jim, I did not fly all the way here from PA to run part of a race."

"Well go gettum."

Loop 9: Jusko walked alongside me, taking inventory of what hurt, what wanted to fall off, whether I wanted anything to drink, all that good stuff a fellow runner is supposed to do. I mostly just ignored him, though at a few points I was tempted to hang on to see if he'd carry me a few yards (he wouldn't). Jusko can have loop 9, despite everything that happened later in the week, for giving up his home for a week, his Saturday night so he could sleep in a tent and get abuse heaped on him by a very cranky runner, his own bed Sunday afternoon when just looking at the flight of stairs to the guest bedroom brought me to tears, and for going out for cheeseburgers for breakfast while I was in the shower post-race. I was fairly delirious by this point, so if you want details, you'll have to ask him. By this point they were dismantling the race course itself, zipping around on golf carts and waving at the crazy lady who was still out there, keepin on.

Loop 10: Right at the start of loop ten, Jusko ran back to get my sunglasses out of my kit, because I couldn't do anything that involved fine motor coordination or the identification of simple objects like my thumbs. I sort of stood in the middle of the trail, wobbling, waiting for him to catch back up with me. Jason, the assistant race director, was just packing the last of the race into the back of the U-Haul. He asked me if I'd finished. No sir, got one left. Was I going to finish? Hell yes sir. "Well then let me get you your medal. But you have to promise you'll finish." Like I came here from Pennsylvania to cheat. Right. In fact, I made him give the medal to Jusko, because I didn't want to touch it until I'd earned it. 

It was about this point that I realised I really rather had to pee, and there was no way I was walking back to the porta-johns, because they were (a) too far off course and (b) behind me. So Jusko kept an eye out for places I could pee in relative seclusion, on account of it was 8 AM by now and there were regular Sunday morning joggers and cyclists in the park. We found a construction john, but it was in a locked fence that I couldn't navigate in that state. He asked me if I wanted to try to run some. I would have, but not until I had peed. Which I finally did, in some bushes that under normal circumstances wouldn't camouflage a skunk.  Ah! Bliss! 

We ran into Jason again with a mile and a half to go. His golf cart had died, and he was pushing it up the course's one hill. Jusko ran to help him. I just kept going. Just when I was starting to think he'd been gone long enough to push a golf cart wherever it wanted to go, he came back and informed me he'd moved the truck back to the camp so he didn't have to carry anything and I didn't have to walk. I think that was when I proposed to him. 

Dude. I think I see our tent. What had once been a barely distinguishable hump of olive green in a sea of tents, camp chairs, lounge chairs, runners, people dressed as Batman, Spiderman, and a convict (really, dude, that's not nice to do to people who are already hallucinating and running alone in a dark park, Richard!) was now a lone green igloo in a field, surrounded by empty parking lots and the parks cleaning crew. Jusko ran ahead with his camera to "capture the race finish" which was equal parts really sweet and....well, just really funny. But there is, somewhere in Rockwall, Texas, digital proof of me crossing a dusty swath where the finish mats used to be at something resembling a run. This is in addition to the lone official race photo of me, somewhere in the first twelve or fifteen miles. It ain't pretty, but damn if it ain't hardcore.

photo courtesy of Cowgirl Photography
Jusko hung the medal on me, hugged me, and said the most beautiful thing I have ever heard anyone say. "You did it, girl. Let's go home and get you a nap." Yes, let's. 

Loop 10 was for me. I distinctly remember the night on the group message board that people first started talking about signing up for ultramarathons, somewhere between my first Marine Corps and bowing out of Nashville due to injury. Because I'm one of the board admins, I could probably find the exact post if I wanted, but I don't need it. I remember saying, "Yeah, marathons are plenty for me. I can promise you I will never feel the need to do an ultra. That shit's just crazy."

Well, I am now a member of the crazy. I'm an ultra runner. I may not be again for a very long time (and I sure as hell won't make my next attempt while it's above 55 degrees) but once is all you need to claim that. Stupidity like that is forever.

I was a horror show Sunday night, not to mention getting off the plane Tuesday afternoon, but all things considered my legs actually feel pretty good five days out. On the other hand, I still have the cold from hell and can't stop sleeping.

Maybe next time you'll get to hear about my trip to Austin, the pilgrimage to Mellow Johnny's and Juan Pelota Cafe, Harmony, learning to two-step, Sadie the crazy lady, and how the mayor of Rockwall ended up driving me home, but not this time. (And I'm still saving that last one for blackmail purposes, Jusko. Just you wait.)

Now, with extra bling!
While I am unofficially the last El Scorcho finisher (figure that sentence out!) making me, in fact, DFL--those of you not runners, that stands for "dead fucking last"--I managed to place 125th out of 142 50k race starters, plus 58 DNS (did not start). How, you ask, did that happen? I kept going. Other people dropped out after 45k, despite being many hours ahead of me timewise, or 40k (I was the second place 40k finisher); several people did take the option to bow out after 25k and take their medal without the bonus. Quite a few even stopped after 20. So I was DFL, but I still came in ahead of almost twenty people.

All things considered, though, amazingly enough, dead fucking last? Feels pretty good.