It was my birthday, and year 2 of my survival anniversary. It had occurred to me that if I were successful, for the first time I would run, the sun would rise, I would run, the sun would set, and still I would run.
(If you want to read the rest of this post, I warn you it’s going to get explicit and filthy and offensive; you know, the good stuff.)
My friend Jose promised to run with me, but of course neglected to sign up until race day morning. At which point I asked him, “when’s your birthday?” “Next Year.” “Fine, because I’m going to get you a bag of getting your shit together.” Jose had arrived at some late time the night before. I was already in my pillow fort in my tent, because I was car camping, and why the hell not. Even though I was extremely tired (I’ve been having wicked insomnia for the past few weeks), and very comfortable, and not at all anxious about the next day, I never really slept. When the alarm went off at 4:30, I just sighed and went about getting ready for the day. I was still back and forth at the 10 minute countdown, camp was quiet, but by the 5 minute mark runners started appearing in the barn. Yes, we started in a barn. That was pretty sweet. Rob gave me a colorful sparkle lai to wear and a horrible pink foam crown that said, “Birthday Princess.” At the end he told me he did that on purpose because he knew it would piss me off, and that is why I love him. Asshole.
I am still so fucking sick of running in the dark, and on the first loop I finally figured out why. My poor, stupid, chemically eroded brain. The 2 lamp technique does help, but it’s still very hard work processing the strange, dim illumination quickly enough to run on it. It makes me so tired. I seriously need to get myself to MDA neuropsych to find out if this can be helped. But I think my conservative pace on the first loop was a good thing in the end. Jose and I set the tone for the day with a rousing volley of farts. Jose was very polite for most of the day, and if he was ahead of me, he would pull over to the side of the trail and let me pass while he let fly. This would come to an end somewhere in the last two loops, where he’d just yell “FARTED” and we kept moving. (I hear this is nothing compared to Rob’s Frito death farts, which I suspect are a ploy to get everyone behind him to speed up.) We occasionally traded burp yells, because the trail will shake loose everything inside you.
The first loop came to and end quickly, and we went back for more. It was miserably humid, and I felt like a self shower. On loop 2 I named the first section of the course, Fairy Land, and we suddenly developed an irrational hatred for the section labeled, “Spaghetti Bends.” Every time we encountered it we’d yell, “AH, FUCK YOU SPAGHETTI!!!” On loop 2 we finally got to hit the back section of the course. I was well into singing “Don’t Let’s Start” at every downhill – this was stuck in my head for about 6 hours. (Thanks, James.) The back section starts with a steep descent of paved concrete, and I realized I needed to pay attention so I didn’t wipe out on it and ruin my day. That first big loop of 7.8 miles was already hard, and I felt it, so by mile 11 I was already working. The climbs in and out of the washes took a lot out of me, and I wished the course map had labeled the contour interval (I suspect it’s 25′). Incomplete maps give me the fits, but I am a special geologist that way. I heard Rob had measured the total elevation change of the 50K to be ~5100′, which puts the 50 miler at ~7000′.
I gave a slippery hug to Ryan at some point, and I saw Liz and Ryan twice at an aid station. Thanks for coming out! I love you nuts!
At some point we stated calling the back part of the course, “The Back Passage.” Jose and I traded stories along the way. We were filthy. We were degenerates. Disturbing sex toys, the pros and cons of Craigslist, debates about lube, the dark times, the best running, we laughed, we tried to soothe each other. We told each other how awesome we were. At one point I said we should make a quilt with all our awesomeness, but it would spontaneously combust from our awesomeness. It was beautiful. We were nothing but positive for each other the whole time, no matter how shitty things were. There was no room for negativity. This is why running with Jose is the best.
We emerged into a field with a pumping station and Jose told me this horrible story: “I went to this party when I first moved to Houston. I walked into one room in the house and this group of people were watching homemade porn. There was this guy going at it with this girl, and he was fat, and had a super pimply ass, and then he just switched right to her ass, without lube or anything. And then I realized the guy in the video was sitting right there, and I asked him, what the fuck? And he said we were all drunk, and he didn’t have the decency to be ashamed. And his buddy off camera started to yell, ‘yeah, DRILL THAT OIL!!!’ but the worst part was when I realized, I knew that chick.” Heh. So every time we emerged to the field with the pumping station, one of us would say, “hey, you know what time it is?!?!?” “Yeah, time to DRILL THAT OIL!!!!!!” So horrifying. We had no lube.
On any given day, I can run 20 miles. After that, things start to get hard, and to hurt. But on this day, at about mile 20 I decided I really wanted it. Not just the 42 miles I’d promised myself. I wanted the full 50. It’s started to burn inside me, that fire of drive I get when I want something so badly I might rip steel with my bare hands to get it. I pushed. Every moment I though I could run, could go faster, could move more quickly or more efficiently, I took it. My knees hurt, my legs were tired, I was tired all over, it was hot and humid, so much so that we got overheated and had to walk when we’d rather run, not to mention the hot flashes on top of that, and my feet were blistered. Not once on the course did I want to quit, to stop pushing forward. Not once. I wasn’t stopping until someone made me stop.
Steve Moore (course record holder) passed me 3 times, and on the last round, wished me happy birthday! (I swear it was Doppler shifted on account of how fast he is.) I tripped twice, and only fell twice. The second time I was in Fairy Land on loop 5 or 6, and a nice guy happened to catch up to us then and gave me an 8.5. I was a little disappointed. Still, my fall made me laugh, and he asked me if I was OK, and I laughed more because I was, even though I took a rock to the hip, and told him I rolled and had my dead bug legs up in the air like Jose taught me, and we all laughed some more. He was with us for awhile, and I wish I knew his name, because he was pretty cool. He asked if it was really my birthday, and I said yes, and he said I was a twisted individual to do this on my birthday, which is why he completely understood. Heh. Jose said what we should’ve done was run a 5K and then drink 42 beers. Next year.
The sixth loop, I don’t know what combination of nutrition, timing and magic happened, but I felt renewed. I took every shred of anger and frustration, frustration at DNFing so many damn races this year, anger at having fucking cancer in the first place, and the good things too, every ounce of passion I have about anything, and I balled it up and threw it at the trail. I ran. I asked Jose to let me go ahead. I flew. I pushed below 11 min miles, near 10, on the flats after mile 35. I was not going to let this day get away from me. Running toward the barn, I saw the clock. We flew over the mat at 11:33, 27 minutes to spare for cutoff. I burst into tears.
I had to do a shoe change and put some Aquaphor on my blisters. I knew the final lap was going to suck for my feet, and that was just the way it was going to be. I got the opportunity to thank Joe for this race (I was a crying mess – I was so happy), and he said we had time to do it, just keep moving. Joe is the coolest, and I am grateful that he does these great races that test me. I thanked him for the race – I don’t think anything I said was adequate to express how grateful to him I was for having this race. The same goes for the aid station volunteers. Those people were phenomenal and braved bees to help us. I know they got stung multiple times. They are my heroes. Rob grabbed my shoulder and yelled at me to go EARN IT, and in times of darkness, I remembered that’s what I was doing, what Rob said to me on the way out. Fucking Rob. I am so lucky to know the HATRs.
I had spent just about everything I had doing the 6th loop. Jose kept trying to tell me to move it, and I am embarrassed to say I almost felt like I was whining when I yelled at him that I promised I was working as hard as I could to move forward. I tried not to pass out at several places. I had to adjust my bra on the left side once again and I saw white sparkles and thought about passing out. (My port scar only poked me once, and I think that was the knot in the stitches. They were right! I did heal up in time! Still, I had that bitch covered with gauze and Kinesio tape. Surgery 10 days before a 50 miler is a great idea kids!) The chafing was intense (I have scabs), and this was all work.
Jose left me in the dark for a long time in Fairy Land. I was angry about it. I thought he’d really left me. I was giving everything I had, though it felt paltry. Everything sucked. I struggled not to pass out from the effort. Jose kept saying things about time, and how we had to move. I told him I had nothing to prove to anyone, and that I’d already exceeded my expectations. This was true. I knew I was going to run 50 miles on that day, even if I didn’t make the end of race cutoff, I would run 50 miles, and that was all that mattered to me – I knew I could not have run any harder on that day. I was proud of what I’d already accomplished. I just wanted to finish, chin up. As we ran along, Jose pointed, saying things like, “fuck that tree, we don’t have to see that again. Fuck that grass. Fuck this hill.” It made me happy.
But then, emergency trail dump! Jose had his issues earlier in the day, but the last loop, I had a pressing problem. I kept it together until we got to the steep beginning of The Back Passage, and then I just looked for a convenient tree, because there was no way I was going to be able to squat, so my solution was to hold onto a tree while I hung my ass over the side of the hill. I told this story at the end and Jeremy said he imagined some poor squirrel down slope going”WTF is this?!?” and I said that was possible as I heard the impact, and then Jeremy asked why he wasn’t running with us as we had all the good stories. Next time, my friend. Jose thought I fell and called out, to which I just screamed “POOPIN!!!!” as loudly as I could. I felt much better after that, and I choose to believe I got a little faster. But after PUMPING THAT OIL for the last time, my brain had a biofeedback induced meltdown. My heart rate was high, I was fatigued, and hot, and I felt this crushing wave of anxiety. I still didn’t want to quit, or slow down, but I felt a powerful urge to curl up into a ball and cry and scream. That was never an option. I just told Jose I was struggling with anxiety, and he asked me about it, but I knew I just had to get past it. We finally climbed out of a wash, and the breeze cooled me a bit, and I finally found a place of peace in my mind, and went there for awhile. The next thing I know Jose was saying “it’s past mile 47 – how the hell are we still running?!?” “Because we have to.”
For most of that loop, I felt like lines on a crumpled piece of paper. I couldn’t think, I couldn’t be anything. I only knew I had to keep going. There was nothing else.
We slogged on. We saw a group ahead of us, and some people on bikes behind us we thought might be sweepers. Jose kept talking about time, and I kept telling him to shut it, because it wasn’t going to make me go any faster. His watch finally died, and it made me happy. I really didn’t think we’d make the race cutoff. As we rounded camp, I saw my cool friend from before who yelled, “hey is that birthday girl?!” I could hear a crowd cheering, but it was just happy noise. But he quickly set me straight, “DON’T STOP FOR ME, YOU’VE GOT 5 MINUTES!!!” And then I realized we were damn well going to make the race cutoff. We took off and hauled ass as fast as we could. As we crested the hill to the barn, the clock still said 13…… and we kept pushing. I saw that we were going to make it. I grabbed Jose’s hand as we ran though the barn. There was a crowd of people screaming on the other side of the gate. I will never forget that final flight through the barn, holding Jose’s hand, my friends at the other end, giving every last ounce of anything I had. I collapsed over the gate and grabbed at people keep me from falling. Someone told me to walk it off, and i did once I caught my breath. The next thing I remember I was sobbing into Jose, and all those people circled us and sang happy birthday at me. I want to hug you all, and if you were there, I hope you will introduce yourself at a race next time so I can. 13:57:36 – 2 minutes and change to spare.
I sat in the HATR tent and we traded war stories and ate the delicious pies Rachel made for me. Rob said she spelled things on the pies, there was a 42, an L, and the last one, “says EAT ME” I guessed. He said it spelled Lisa in pecans and I said, same thing. When I took my shoes off, the HATR boys gathered around and had a collective gross out, so naturally they started taking pictures. I feel like my ultra cred went up a few notches for running on those bad boys. (A very nice lady gave me some lancets and alcohol wipes – thank you!!!) Nothing like scarfing pie and checking out someone else’s horrible feet.
Thank you to everyone who took care of me at the end. Really. People got me food and water. Greg took charge of reheating pasta and making sure I got to my tent and had a shower. And Jenny just generally made sure I was alright. It really meant a lot to me that Greg and Jenny drove all the way out there just to cheer for me. Jose and I texted each other for an hour lying down because we were in too much pain to sleep.
I’m not sure what to say in conclusion about that day. Thank you to everyone who came out and supported me. I couldn’t have done it without you. What I said last year is till true - it’s easy to do great things when you’re surrounded by people who love, support, and inspire you. I can’t adequately express what it feels like to finally live a dream you’ve been working for, to put your whole self out there at risk, to hold nothing back and see what happens. I exceeded what I thought was possible, and it was glorious. All in one day. Tomorrow, go get that thing you want, and don’t let anything stop you. You won’t regret it, and you will soar.