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On running and writing and what I’m chasing

Editor note: I wrote a similar post years ago. Recently I polished it up a bit to include in a writing workshop submission. I’ve recently taken leave of my job as publisher of the Advocate Magazine in Dallas, where I worked almost 10 years, in order to 1. Help take care of some family members who need me. 2. Work on independent writing projects, including a book. Don’t roll your eyes, haters; I am writing a fucking book. I’m also going to run a 50 miler in February and attempt 100 by the end of the year. (I’ll also get back to writing on this blog, hopefully with an updated look soon. (My job, though I loved it, left absolutely no time for pleasures such as writing about running.) 

So, anyway, here’s the essay. 

On writing and running 

My heart hammers, demanding release from my body, all of its limitations. This poor heart, captive in here some 40 years, never knows what fresh torture awaits.

My muscles are shredded, porous, sponges soaking up lactic acid, slowing my stride. Heat ignites a fire, an inferno now, in my belly. Flames lick at my esophagus.

I need an antacid. I need water, Wait, no. I am going to throw up. But, I’m so fucking thirsty. Have I ever been this parched? My feet. There they are down there, throbbing. Blood. Is that blood on my shoe? Yep — seeping, spreading like a crimson firework in slo mo. This hurts. What am I doing? Why? I chose this. I choose this. What compels me? I might die today. 

What was it Orwell said … something about a “horrible exhausting struggle, like a long bout of a painful illness …”? Yes. Yes. His words enter my sizzling brain. “One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.”

George Orwell meant writing a book, of course.

Were he a distance runner, he might have said the same about that inexplicable compulsion.

What are writers so desperate to expel from inside? What is the runner chasing? Evading?

If Orwell cannot figure it out, my ruminations are of little use.

So I just keep moving, into the agony. With a smirk, it welcomes me, as a dominatrix welcomes a masochistic client, the one who wants to leave bruised and beaten and “surf out of the session on a wave of pain and endorphins … with this beautiful clarity of focus born of the extreme sensations [she] causes.”

(Source: Violet Fenn at Metro magazine, “Why do people visit a dominatrix? Men explain the appeal.”) 

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Me at writing workshop in Archer City, TX

****

I have a story idea. Someone has done something remarkable. I want to tell the tale well. I long to make the reader feel what I feel — the admiration, the inspiration, the wonder or frustrations I experience when I extract answers, those bricks I will use to construct narrative.

But for hours, sometimes days, after interviewing the extraordinary someone and his family, acquaintances or adversaries, I stall.

I think about all the ways to convey the story, but I am inept.

It is beyond me, molding profound ideas into words that will make you appreciate it, understand it, the way you must.

If I fail to adequately astound the reader — I fail those who so generously gave to me their thoughts and quotes and ideas. Sometimes they cry. Blessed be the criers, the honest, the raw. I mean, I really love them. Even if I meet them once, they live in me forever.

The teenager who took his 6-year-old sister to a playground at their apartment complex where — while he shot hoops on the adjacent basketball court, like usual — she was abducted and murdered. How he has fought to tip the scales of justice in his family’s favor ever since.

The 50-year-old lawyer, journalist and “Matlock” enthusiast who, after a year in Ethiopia’s most deranged prison, fled with his family — each of them brilliant, like him — to the States, where he now delivers pizzas to apartments in northeast Dallas.

You deserve so much better than I can give you. Epic Fail. It’s what the kids say, or used to say. Epic Fail. Epic Fail. [You are an] Epic Fail.

I fret and bite my nails. I pick at my skin, gnaw my lower lip and cheek, and pull out strands of hair. I stare out windows and at screens. The weight of my weakness exhausts me. Coffee.

Nothing to it. Sit down at your keyboard and bleed, to paraphrase Ernest Hemingway.

Eventually I start typing. I hate every goddamn word. I delete and write. Delete and rewrite. Delete. Delete. I delete so much that the “delete” key on my computer pops off.

Then after minutes or hours of struggle, I pluck out a sentence that pleases me. Then a second. These first two sentences give me confidence and I fall into a rhythm, writing sentences. (“As word got around, other renters — some who knew the child and her family and still more who did not — emerged by the dozens from their units to join the search.”)

I have a page full of words on the screen, I still write bad sentences, but they don’t torture me, because before them stand good, proud sentences — proof that I am capable of good, proud sentences.

I recognize and banish bad sentences. I correct my form and finish strong. That is, when things go my way.

Except sometimes they don’t. Sometimes the rhythm evades, or it is interrupted by the awareness that there was a hole in my planning. A question I forgot to ask or an angle I overlooked until it was too late. Then I have to go back. Sometimes I have to rework everything. Under deadline, I don’t have time to make things better and I publish an unsatisfactory story. Incomplete. Inadequate. Or worst of worst: Good Enough. Not bad enough to KILL altogether, but when presented to an audience it hangs its head, knowing it could have done better.

Who else realizes the piece didn’t live up to its potential? It doesn’t matter. It eats at my ego. I cringe when I look my words on the page.

But when it all goes perfectly — when I plan properly and the words, after the inevitable early hell, flow and I finish strong and the critics say, “Good Job” — then comes the high, the reckoning.

Only those who can endure being intensely uncomfortable for long periods of time will ever know this particular reward. It requires a heightened tolerance for punishment and relentless pursuit of the thing that exists on the other side of the pain, the kind of pain most people don’t know anything about, with apologies to Barton Fink.

Fink, the Coen brothers’ tortured writer, says something else about pain: “I’ve always found that writing comes from a great inner pain,” he says. “Maybe it’s a pain that comes from a realization that one must do something for one’s fellow man — to help somehow to ease his suffering. Maybe it’s a personal pain. At any rate, I don’t believe good work is possible without it.”

(The conversation ends with another writer’s equally sensible take: “Waaal, me? I just enjoy maikn’ things up. Yessir. Escape. It’s when I can’t write, can’t escape m’self, that I want to tear m’head off and run screamin’ down the street with m’balls in a fruitpickers pail.”)

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We’re having fun, right?

****

My dependence on running — traversing long and longer distances in increasingly shorter timeframes — looms in the same psychic place.

Pain announces itself in the early stages of focused training. Sweat in the eyes. Legs like lead. Nausea. Pounding heart. Lungs afire. Imminent hours loom like a prison sentence.

Blisters on the bottoms of both feet, 30 miles into a 50-miler.

Barfing, overheated, just 16 miles into a 50-kilometer race — do the math — 14 miles, more than two hours, to go.

But I willingly advance. For the clarity of focus …

Razor focus on a goal, and on the pain that stands between it and me, makes every little thing — yesterday’s shame, sick mom, sister’s cancer, sister’s kids, dead friend, wayward son, children in need, homeless man on the corner, Trump’s tweets, work deadlines, towering laundry, spousal furies, a hemorrhaging savings account — fade into a blurry background.

But when an attempt results in failure or I am left behind in a race or I pull a hamstring and miss weeks of practice while competitors run on — oh, the outsized misery.

When at mile 18 of a marathon I realize I must have missed something in my preparations and I fall out of rhythm, never to return to the goal pace.

The Finishing Time stares me in the face, mocking me, permanent record, until a new one takes its place.

I run day in and out, with painstaking effort.

I forfeit comfort, sleep, late-night revelries, greasy foods and potent potables. Relationships suffer. I run when it’s 100 degrees, in snow or downpours, when mosquitos are swarming and when my muscles are hurting or when I want nothing more than to watch TV for a couple of hours.

When 26.2 miles isn’t enough, I run 30, 50 … someday soon, 100 miles.

When I race, whatever distance, I want the sacrifice to show — no, shine — in my performance. I want my competitors to say, “She must have worked her ass off to run that kind of race.”

There’s no use pretending otherwise: I am highly motivated by competition. I am. Runners are. Writers are. “There is a real competition among writers,” Hemingway once said.

So when observers see my struggle, my red face at the finish, my mediocre time, I hear them (possibly imaginarily) say, “She probably didn’t train hard enough.”

Still I would rather blow a race entirely than be middling.

It’s a gamble — running hard and without caution in a competition. My cohorts call it “Kamikaze style.”

Kamikaze hurts. There is a line you can’t cross, but it is difficult to see, so it is easy to run right off the cliff and die (metaphorically, that is, except when trail running in the mountains, when this becomes a literal peril).

I could start out conservatively and gradually progress and run a good-enough race. But it’s only if I give everything I have, perfect my pain and hold on — breathe with no oxygen, surge on melting muscles — do I stand the chance of having satisfactory results.

A remarkable race gives me confidence like a good opening sentence gives me confidence. A poor performance churns my stomach and saps my strength and makes me wonder if I am done for keeps.

I risk misery and shame, which the odds seem to favor, chasing the chance to feel mighty for a moment.

****

I know, I know — in both writing and running, I am the only one who really cares. Is anyone really observing, judging, giving one damn at all? Naturally, no.

They skim a story and say, “That’s interesting,” or “That’s dumb,” and move on.

They might see I ran a 3 hour 9 minute marathon and think “That’s good,” or “That’s slow,” never imagining that, though I am in unrelenting pain, I am floating on a cloud because I have been attempting for years to break 3 hours 10. Triumph derived from torture — the opiate of the masochistic.

No one is watching — I am no Olympian or Pulitzer contender.

In this life, I am a writer and a runner primarily to meet my own needs and desires.

That doesn’t change the euphoria when the gamble pays.

It doesn’t change the despair in failure.

I need both.

If I met success with every essay or article or pitch or with every chase, there would be no magic in it. I need the pain; good work is impossible without it.

So bring on the failure. Bring on the defeat. Bring on the broken ego and battered spirit. Bring on the misery and the cosmic discomfort. The weary eyes, fingers, feet.

Purge. Pursue. What? I cannot name it. All I know is that the chase sometimes is a cleansing (of spirit, mind and body) and, at best, it ends in something like an awakening, the full view, if for a moment, of another realm outside this life and all of its limitations. It hits like that shock of recognition when a piece of art or music moves us, but at a higher voltage. There is a light, a clarity, only those who embrace and endure extended bouts of suffering can know.

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10k, racing, running, Uncategorized

Trinity Levee 10k

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Always wear your White Rock Running Co-op shirt to races, and you will be surrounded by friends. Also, what is with those poses (me and Carlos, to left?! Hahahar)

Here’s what it looks like to be third overall female, missing second by literally one second! (Punches self in face).

I also came in first masters female, but they gave me the Third Overall plaque rather than the First Place Masters—no prize monies either way, so I’m totally fine with not being called out on my old age.

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A podium finish is cool. I am old, though, and only getting older, as are we all, if we are lucky …

Kudos to fellow White Rock Running Co-op member Brent Woodle who came first place overall.

Garmin stats: Ran a very even race. This is thanks to running with a heart rate monitor.

The Trinity Levee course was great. A few rough patches, and it starts out on the Margaret Hunt Hill bridge, but it turned out to be net downhill because the finish line was under the levee. (I wish I had known this when I started; I held back a bit, thinking I would face an uphill on the last mile).

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Here’s one of those rough patches. But how cool is this photo with the infographics (that was my slowest point of the race :()?

As it always is with races of two distances, the problems happen when 5k-ers merge with 10k-ers. As I turned the last corner, as I dropped my speed to a 6:15 pace, I found myself behind three side-by-side-by-side 5k runners with no way to pass.

I hollered as I approached their heels, “Please let me pass!” And I swear I said yelled “Please.” Not one of them heard or acknowledged me, I assume because they all were wearing headphones. So I wound up slowing down and eventually passing in the muddy area aside the trail.

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Gotta take the #badracephotos with the good, right? Here’s where the 5k and 10k merged. Yeah, I see the fanny pack too, but we’re not here to judge. At least she’s not blocking out the world with headphones.

Remember that ONE SECOND? Still, I have no one to blame but myself. I could and should have had more than that one second cushion. Hindsights: Maybe I should have started at the front. I lined up about 10-12 deep at the starting line, which also was a mistake that cost me seconds.

Dozens of slower runners toed the line right UP FRONT of this very crowded field. How people do not intuitively know that this is wrong, I will never figure out. At least no strollers or dogs were in my way.

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Awesome idea: Cypress at Trinity Groves partnered with race organizers to provide FREE race photos. Hopefully we will soon say goodbye to the racket that is the race photo business!

Now that I seem to be somewhat back in fighting shape, I plan to hone in on the 10k training. I’m doing speedwork about two times a week. I’ll start posting the training schedule here on the blog again. I don’t know if anyone reads it, but it helps me to have everything posted here anyway.

I hope to improve on this time at the upcoming Celebration White Rock 10k, March 24. (Full disclosure: I have a free entry via my magazine, East Dallas Advocate.)

My 10k PR is 40:43. My goal is to beat that. My pie in the sky is to break 40, but the cool weather is waning and so are my chances of doing that this season.

Uncategorized

Runners gather to remember David Stevens

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At the Dallas Running Club parking lot, attendees picked up candles for a 7:30 p.m. vigil for murdered runner David Stevens: Photo by Rasy Ran

An estimated 150-plus gathered last night near White Rock Lake to honor the life of fellow runner David Stevens, who was killed last week on the White Rock Creek Trail in Lake Highlands. Most of those people did not know Stevens but felt a close bond with him nonetheless.

Police suspect Stevens, an engineer and inventor, was killed at random last Monday morning by 21-year-old Thomas Linze Johnson. (Johnson, who reportedly has a history of disturbed behavior, immediately turned himself in and confessed to bludgeoning the runner with a machete-type weapon.)

More on David Stevens here.

An avid runner, Stevens regularly trained on the White Rock Creek Trail and he ran the Dallas Marathon last year.

Attendees gathered outside the Dallas Running Club’s building where they pinned on memorial bibs and ran for an hour before returning to the parking lot for a candlelight vigil.

One of the organizers, Jorge Namè, says that while Stevens was not a member of the running club, he will me mourned and remembered as a friend.

“It felt right to honor the life of a fellow runner even though we did not know him,” Name says. “Also to remind us the we must live life today because you never know what tomorrow will bring.”

I ran alongside Nick Polito, a Lake Highlands resident who says he frequently runs alone along the same stretch of trail Stevens was running when he was attacked. He didn’t know Stevens, but says that once he saw his photo, he recognized his face. “I’d seen him out there running,” Polito says.

Though Stevens was a resident of Sunnyvale, his neighbors told reporters he liked to drive to the White Rock Lake trails for his morning jogs.

Novel Rogers, another White Rock area resident who ran with us, says he did not know Stevens either but that he felt a bond simply because the man was a runner like him. He was there to show his support for Stevens and his loved ones.

The sentiment was similar throughout the crowd: Stevens did not appear to be a social runner, he did not belong to any of our city’s many running clubs, but he was a soulmate because he got up every morning and did the same thing many of us do — run.

Another local runner, Robin Korevaar, says she is considering a memorial — possibly a tree, plant or bench — at the site of Stevens’ death, near Moss Haven Park.

Advocate photographer Rasy Ran contributed to the reporting and took all pictures. 

runners met up for a memorial run and candlelight vigil near White Rock Lake : Photo by Rasy Ran
runners met up for a memorial run and candlelight vigil near White Rock Lake : Photo by Rasy Ran
Dallas runner Lynnlie Tuschoff delivers a speech: Photo by Rasy Ran
Dallas runner Lynnlie Tuschoff delivers a speech: Photo by Rasy Ran
Dallas runner Lynnlie Tuschoff goes through preliminary details atop her Jeep before a memorial run and candlelight vigil held in honor of fellow runner David Stevens: Photo by Rasy Ran
Dallas runner Lynnlie Tuschoff goes through preliminary details atop her Jeep before a memorial run and candlelight vigil held in honor of fellow runner David Stevens: Photo by Rasy Ran
Runners at White Rock Lake participate in a memorial run honoring the life of David Stevens: Photo by Rasy Ran
Runners at White Rock Lake participate in a memorial run honoring the life of David Stevens: Photo by Rasy Ran
Runners at White Rock Lake remember David Stevens: Photo by Rasy Ran
Runners at White Rock Lake remember David Stevens: Photo by Rasy Ran
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At White Rock Lake, attendees ran a mile in silence to honor David Stevens: Photo by Rasy Ran
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As night fell, runners finished an hour-long run to commemorate the life and death of David Stevens: Photo by Rasy Ran
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During the last mile of the memorial run, runners were asked to turn off music, keep quiet, and remember David Stevens, who was killed last week: Photo by Rasy Ran
Lynnlie Tuschoff tears up during her Oct. 19 memorial run speech. She didn’t know slain runner David Stevens personally, but said she "didn’t need to" as she detailed how the community came together strong for the David Stevens’ memorial run: Photo by Rasy Ran
Lynnlie Tuschoff tears up during her Oct. 19 memorial run speech. She didn’t know slain runner David Stevens personally, but said she “didn’t need to” as she detailed how the community came together strong for the David Stevens’ memorial run: Photo by Rasy Ran
More than 150 gathered to remember slain runner David Stevens: Photo by Rasy Ran
More than 150 gathered to remember slain runner David Stevens: Photo by Rasy Ran
Candles lit the parking lot as a crowd commemorated the life of runner David Stevens: Photo by Rasy Ran
Candles lit the parking lot as a crowd commemorated the life of runner David Stevens: Photo by Rasy Ran
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Dallas City Councilman Adam McGough joined runners in remembering the life of a runner killed in his Lake Highlands district: Photo by Rasy Ran
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Map shows where we run (Dallas, TX)

Hint: It’s White Rock Lake.

These visually appealing maps from Nathan Yau, who runs a blog called Flowing Data, provide a pretty look at where people are running around Dallas.

Yau collected data from the many apps runners use to track workouts — often the logs are displayed publicly. Then he used the data to outline routes in major cities.

The result? This series of “Where People Run” maps.

Can you spot our city?
Can you spot our city?

“Not only is it fun to see, but it can be useful to the data collectors to plan future workouts or even city planners who make sure citizens have proper bike lanes and running paths.”

No surprise that the Dallas map shows a gazillion circles around White Rock Lake.

Dallas
Dallas

“If there’s one quick (and expected) takeaway,” Yau notes, “it’s that people like to run by the water and in parks, probably to get away from cars, and the scenery.”

Granted not everyone digitally tracks walks, runs and rides.

“Yau writes, don’t take these maps too literally. They simply cover the tip of a very interesting iceberg.”

Delve in deeper here.

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Grasslands: 50 miles of mud

Photo by Nick Polito
Photo of my feet by Nick Polito

At mile 30 of the Grasslands 50 Miler, I had this blog post written in my head:

I made it through more than 30 miles of my first attempt at a 50-mile run. Due to a late start, a few wrong turns and horrendous course conditions, I packed it in after completing 50 kilometers …

But as fate would have it, I found myself — after some exasperating words with friends, a handful of chia seeds and a shot of something that wasn’t Gatorade — heading back into the bush for 20 more miserable miles.

There was mud. More mud than I have ever seen, and I have seen mud. Different varieties of mud, which I will now list in order of how much I hate them, from least to most despised.

Packed sand — soggy, silty dense sand, like the ocean shoreline, a pleasant enough ride

Muddy water — sludge pools that soak socks and shoes, but don’t much hinder your stride

Deep wet sand — this ankle-deep slimy silt covered a large part of the course, at a glance it almost looked like the dense sand, but when your feet hit, they sunk, and so did your hopes and dreams

Wet cement — you know that sexy scene in “Ghost”? Take Demi Moore’s pottery muck, pour it all over your feet, and you’re off!

Red clay mud — orange-y red glutinous goop that aggressively sucks shoes off feet, each slap, slurp, slap, slurp-sounding disgusting step feels like prying free from a vacuum.

Negra mud-zilla (black mud) — all the characteristics of red clay, but this tacky terrain also managed to work its way inside socks, forming large clumps between the toes and balls of your feet

Sometimes one or more of the muds mingled.

One woman became stuck in a mucilaginous mixture of black and red. Fellow runners dislodged her.

Some altogether lost shoes.

Over the hours, the mud formed an adhesive that glued shoe to foot.

In places, large piles of green-ish horse manure topped the mud, a thing that barely registered.

Through trial and error we learned that a thicket of thorns hid amid the trailside grasses and that any attempt to run there would result in mutilated flesh.

Also, when slipping into the mud, clutching a bush for support would result in stigmata-style palm injury.

I spent the night before the race at the Ramada Inn in Decatur, because I did not want to be late to the race.

I pulled up directions to the race the night before the race, noting that it was about a 25-minute drive from the Ramada. I gave myself more than an hour to get there, because I was afraid I might get lost, and I did not want to be late to the race.

635628151275264975I got lost, badly, on the dark, unmarked backroads of Alvord, TX, and was about 40 minutes late to the race.

Driving in the predawn hours, I did not see a soul for some 30 minutes — when I finally saw another car, I flagged it down and the driver happened to be coming from the starting line, and he pointed me in the right direction.

When I arrived, a kindly volunteer told me not to worry. She would jog me to the trail entrance.

It was 6:45 a.m. (the race began at 6) and still pitch dark.

I bid her farewell and headed into the darkness alone.

The first stretch is a 4+ mile out and back before commencing the first big loop, so I almost immediately encountered runners heading back. I saw my friend Novle, who I was supposed to run alongside, and he said he’d wait for me back at the first aid station. I caught up to him just past said aid station, thank the gods, because there was ample opportunity for getting lost, which we did anyway, but not as bad as I would have had I been alone.

Once I found Novle — sure we complained about the mud and how much extra effort we were exerting and how our hammies were already screaming, but — the first 18 or so miles were quite enjoyable. On the second loop, however, from 18-30 miles-ish, frustrations ensued and mounted.

For one thing, we took some wrong turns — the course is well marked, but it is difficult to mark 50 miles of wilderness, so when you stop seeing markings, you know you are lost. So you turn around and go back until you see the proper markings.

The mud on this loop was particularly debilitating — when my watch was still working, I noted that a certain mile took almost 19 minutes to cover. I stopped noting after that one.

During this loop, Novle mentioned that an old calf injury was acting up, so he told me to go on. (He threw in the towel after that loop, but he hung around until I finished — even though I, on multiple occasions, threatened to end his life).

So I was mostly alone. Approaching mile 30, I decided that I was done. I would get to the next aid station, conveniently located at the start/finish area, and I would alert the volunteers that I was bailing. With that, I was excited. I was happy that I was going to be done, 30 miles in the bag, not bad, I told myself. A 50k in those conditions, I assured myself, not bad at all. Good, in fact. You know, I probably should do a 50k before a 50 miler anyway. This is for the best.

Yes, I had it all worked out.

When I arrived, my old friend Nick Polito was there. A badass ulrarunner, Nick is coming off an injury, had run the half and was volunteering the rest of the day.

“I’m done,” I told him. He asked if I was hurt. “No.” Was I puking? “No.”

“Then you are not done,” he says. “Why are you here, Nick?” I whined. “Go away.” Then: “You aren’t even close to done,” another person says to me.

“I am going to kill you,” I say to Nick and to this other person I do not know. “I hate you. And I hate you,” I say to them, respectively looking each in his eyes. Like smug assholes, they just smile at me, and I tell them to remind Novle that because he convinced me to run this race, I am going to kill him as well.

They promise to pass the message along, and I head back out.

The next 10 or so miles actually were the least muddy and most runnable. I kept a steady jog going through most of this.

At mile 30-something, a herd of deer crossed the running path. I thought I might be hallucinating, but a couple of other dudes saw them too.

I approached a guy walking who was from Iowa. He had run Leadville and done a full Ironman, but this was just too much, he said, noting that he was going to stop at the 41-mile pass.

My cell phone kept buzzing, which bugged me. Thing is, I did not have my cell phone with me. Yes, mild sensory hallucinations occurred.

In fact, I carried nothing. It was cool enough that I was OK without a water bottle. I carried one on the first loop, attached to my hand with a tube sock, courtesy this DIY video, because I forgot the handheld.

At mile 41 I came back through the start/finish area. Still, Nick was there. I said to Nick, “WHY ARE YOU STILL HERE?” I really still wanted to quit. The Ironman/Leadville guy was quitting. I wanted to quit too. I was pretty mean to Nick.

Nick and the other volunteers ushered me off on to the final loop, the loop marked in red, the 9-mile, muddiest of all loops loop.

Four or so miles into this loop, I passed two guys. They were chatting. They told me they were taking it easy, that they wanted to “take it all in” and I say, that is exactly not what I want to do.

I passed them.

It started raining.

It felt good.

I heard voices, in a good way.

Nicole (100-mile record holder): The faster you go the sooner it’s over.

Tarahumara Indians: When you run on the earth and run with the earth, you can run forever. (I had the earth all over me, literally, so theoretically I could run forever).

Nick (who I have now forgiven): It’s OK to cry on the trail. I’ve cried on the trail.

At this point I was no longer trying to find ways around the mud; I was just landing inside it, sinking into its depths, splashing, sticking, withdrawing. My shoes were no longer coming off. They were glued to my feet now. I was one with my shoes.

Eventually, I saw two posts with the word FINISH on them. This is the finish line, I thought deliriously. Where is everyone? They must be gone. I must be the last one here. Then I realized, no — that is just a post pointing toward the finish line ahead.

Then, about a quarter mile from the real finish line, I missed a turn.

Fortunately the guys I had passed earlier saw me and began screaming at me.

I turned back and followed them to the actual finish. Conspiracy theory me thinks they waited a hair longer than necessary to holler.

I was pissed that they passed me. But happy that I did not continue along the path back into the wilderness and away from the finishing area.

When I finished, Nick and Novle and a spattering of other people were still there. I like them again, and no longer wish to inflict their deaths.

“You are the third place female,” a race volunteer told me, and gave me a belt buckle (for finishing) and a glass (for placing). Realistically, I think there were hardly more than three females who completed the race, so I might have been as close to last as first.

Now it was raining and cold.

My shoes would not come off, so I found some scissors in my car and surgically removed them. When I finally was separated from them, I chunked them in the trash.

In my bare, muddy feet, I returned to the Ramada.

This night, there would be no insomnia.

Uncategorized

Cross Timbers marathon 2015 — race report

Me and race director Teresa Estrada: Photo by Nicole Studer
Me and race director Teresa Estrada: Photo by Nicole Studer

In 2012 I did my first ever trail race, a half marathon at Lake Texoma’s Cross Timbers. It was a challenging, three-hour mudfest. It was the most enjoyable race of my life.

But being inexplicably driven by a desire to knock a few minutes off my road racing times, I forwent trail running for a few more years and focused on my goals in the marathon, half, 10 and 5k.

I still have more speed dreams to fulfill, but I hit a plateau recently and was feeling quite burned out. So in an effort to “ask nothing of my running” and enjoy the sport more, I once again signed up for Cross Timbers.

The half marathon was sold out, so I registered for the full marathon.

I told precious few people I was doing this — just my running buddy, Jen, my husband (who thinks I am insane) and the other runners I knew were attending.

The race turned out to be a positive experience, but the day began somewhat nightmarishly.

First of all, though the weather had been in the 30-40 degree range all week, we awoke to 66-degree race morning temps. Seriously? I thought. This. Just. Figures. (66 is too hot for a long hard run, but 40 is perfect).

I did enjoy the extreme good fortune of hitching a ride with my friends Nicole and her husband Eric and our buddy James. Nicole is one of the best trail/ultra runners in America. James also is an experienced marathoner, ultrarunner and trial runner who was a top finisher in previous year’s Cross Timbers marathon. Nicole was getting in some volunteer hours. James was running. Eric is a top-tier supporter and driver.

Nonetheless, near the end of the 90-minute drive to the start of the race, I became violently carsick. To make matters worse, when we stopped at the one restroom near the race site, an overflowing toilet welcomed us. Granted, this was more of a nightmare for the shop owner/operator, but the sight and smell exacerbated my illness.

When we pulled up to the race site, I immediately walked to the trees and puked my guts out. This continued as my friends picked up my racing number and bag.

Nicole, who basically is an A-list celebrity on the trail running scene, secured permission to run the first 10 miles of the course to the aid station where she would volunteer. We all gathered at the start and agreed that I was just carsick and that I’d get over it. Nicole would stick with me to the 10-mile station. Eric would drive the car there, and if I was too sick to go on at that point, I could just crawl into the backseat until everyone was done. That was not going to happen, I told myself.

I splashed some water in my face, stripped off my sweats and handed them to Eric. They helped me pin on my number. We stood, and I tried to converse with my fellow athletes, but I was barely holding my shit together as we waited for the race director to send us on our way. James and Nicole both said things to the effect of: “Once you get on the trail you will feel better.”

Most normal people would say: “You are throwing up and this might not be the time to run a 5-6 hour race.” But not them. I love my runner friends so much. And they were right, too.

Miraculously and thankfully, sometime between 5 a.m. when we left Dallas and the 7 a.m. race start, the temperature dropped by about 20 degrees. Hallelujah.

Nicole and the rest: Photo by Gray Kinney
Nicole and the rest: Photo by Gray Kinney

The lead pack, including James, took off. Several of the eventual leaders — including the female winner of the marathon — were content to run behind Nicole for the first three or four miles, though she was trotting along at my extremely cautious pace. Everyone wanted to congratulate her on her recent American record.

After the first hydration/nutrition/aid station, I let some of that group go ahead. I was careful because — other than that half marathon three years ago — I had not raced on a trail before, and, in the past year, I had not done any long runs of more than two and a half hours.

Based on my half marathon time out here in ’12, I figured I was looking at a six-hour race this day.

Also around this time, I went ahead of Nicole so that I could dictate the pace. I, of course, took a wrong turn and got myself, Nicole and two other guys lost. We were off track only for a very short while. Thankfully someone noticed the absence of the little white flags that lined the course and we were back on course soon, losing probably less than five minutes.

Unfortunately, this fork in the trail impacted our friend James, and the group he was with, far more significantly.

The first six miles of Cross Timbers is brutal. The course has something like 5,500 feet of elevation gain and loss and most of that is over the first and last six and a half miles (that’s why the half marathon course is so very slow and tough).

At the half-marathon turnaround, there is a beautiful aid/nutrition/cookie station manned by the friendliest volunteers you’ll ever meet. Here I drank some ginger ale and ate an orange slice. If I could keep that down, I figured, I would be OK. As we departed that stop, the course flattened out and grew more enjoyable. Nicole and I were able to relax, pick up the pace slightly, and chat. And by the time I hit mile 10, I felt much better.

Me, Eric and James: Photo by Steve Griffin
Me, Eric and James: Photo by Steve Griffin

At that point I dropped Nicole at the aid station and saw a friend from the Dallas Running Club, Steve, who said he got a late start. I considered running with him, but he, a talented and experienced trail/ultra runner, was moving pretty fast and, though I felt better, I thought I needed to keep it super comfortable until at least the mile-13 turnaround.

Also around this time, I saw James. As I mentioned before, he got lost and in his case it added about two extra miles, he says. I could tell he was pretty bummed about this. He also is about the most relaxed, low-key dude I know; he applies a surfer-like attitude toward running, so I wasn’t too worried about him.

The trail was just gorgeous, with several glimpses of Lake Texoma, even a short romp across a sandy shoreline beach. I was truly enjoying myself.

Again at the turnaround was a well-stocked goodie/drink/aid station where I procured some more ginger ale. I figured ginger ale would give me both hydration and some calories to keep me moving. I was afraid to consume anything else. At each of the remaining aid stations I would ask for ginger ale and the volunteers would scramble to get me a cup quickly. I was so impressed with the volunteers at this race. They were angels from trail-running heaven. Seriously.

(Side note: the space between aid stations on a trail marathon made me think about the excessive amount of hydration stations in a road marathon. A water table every 1-2 miles is too much and just creates congestion.)

By the time I saw Nicole again at the mile 10/16 aid station, I was feeling even better. Nicole at that point ran alongside me again for about another mile. As we passed a tiny lakeside gas station/convenience store, I said to her, “Do you think they have a restroom?” And she’s all: “I was wondering the same thing.” Then this kid hopping into his folks’ Suburban says to us, “It’s on the side of the building.” And I am like: “Oh there is a god!”

I am not exaggerating when I say that discovering that bathroom changed my whole life and universe. You see, one of the reasons I’ve avoided trail running is the bathroom situation. No matter how minor or major the, um, need, I cannot go outside, in the bushes; I just cannot. Maybe someday I will figure this out, but I just don’t think so.

So after the pit stop, I was a new woman, completely. I was keeping up a steady pace, power walking the hills and passing many people. Granted, most of the people I passed were tackling the 50 miler, which started half an hour before the regular marathon. I made sure to tell each of them how very impressed I was with what they were doing. I could not imagine nearly doubling what I did that day. That is a tough course for a 5 miler, much less a 50.

Anyway, I was alone most of the last 10 miles, but I talked to everyone I passed. I enjoyed the scenery immensely. Because of how bad I was at the beginning, I think, I was even more grateful for the way I felt at mile 20.

I hate people who say stuff like I am about to say, so know and please understand and believe this is an anomaly for me, but, I kept waiting to feel tired. I was like: I am sure to feel tired at some point, but instead I just felt more energized as the race went on.

In fact, when I finally saw Nicole again, when she told me I was at the finish line, I was like: What? It’s over? (I was so discombobulated at the start that I did not start my watch, so at mile 26, I thought I was at mile 24).

As I crossed the finish line, the race director, Teresa, greeted me and handed me a finishers award and says, “second overall female,” and then a guy sitting at a laptop at the finish line says, “she’s your masters winner,” and she takes the award and hands me a bigger, framed award that reads “first place masters.”

I dreaded hitting 40 as much as anyone possibly can, but it has resulted in some nice trophies and awards.

I am blown away by the superb organization of the race.

I am also happy as hell with my racing experience. Of course, once I finished I begin to think: Maybe if I hadn’t been so cautious I could have won first place. So I look at the results and see that first place female beat me by almost 30 minutes, so I am OK. I did not stand a chance, thank goodness. My time was 4:51.

Did I mention I love this race? I think I will do an ultra on the trail next. But I am keeping my plans to myself for a while.

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Nicole Studer breaks 100-mile trail record

Nicole Studer with husband Eric and the rest of her support team, mostly runners from our neighborhood: Courtesy Nicole Studer
Nicole Studer (pink jacket) with husband Eric (to her right) and the rest of her support team: Courtesy Nicole Studer

Nicole Studer, who lives near and trains often at White Rock Lake, set an American record over the weekend, clocking the fastest time ever recorded by a female in a 100-mile trail race.

(Published Feb. 1 on lakehighlands.advocatemag.com)

Before you even think of dismissing this as a moderate deal, imagining ultra-running as a less-than-competitive fringe sport, stop.

Ultra-running’s popularity — especially when it comes to races on tough, mountainous terrain — has steadily and enormously increased over the years, especially after the 2009 publication of Christopher McDougall’s nationally best selling ultra-running manifesto Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Super Athletes, And The Greatest Race The World Has Never Seen, which also was responsible for a barefoot-running boom and those crazy-looking five-finger shoes.

Matthew McConaughey just signed on to star in a movie adaptation of the book.

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Nicole Studer finishing 100 miles: Courtesy Ultra Sports Live TV

It’s not soccer or football. It boasts no pop-star-and-her-dancing-sharks halftime shows.

Studer’s payday was a relatively paltry $2,000 ($1k for the win and $1k for breaking the record).

But the sport offers gritty, grueling and utterly compelling competition nonetheless.

Studer, about whom we have written before — like when she won the 100-mile Trail Championship last year — ran 14 hours 22 minutes  at last weekend’s 2015 Rocky Raccoon 100 Mile. This is her third year to dominate the women’s race.

Only three men finished ahead of her, and all by less than 20 minutes. The closest woman was more than an hour behind.

The previous 100-mile trail record was 14 hours 45 minutes, set by Traci Falbo in 2014. The previous record on the Rocky Raccoon course was set by Jenn Shelton in 2007. If you haven’t heard of Jenn Shelton, chances are you will soon enough. She is the female runner prominently featured in the aforementioned book Born to Run; her larger-than-life personality added drama to the story, so she potentially could become a household name once this movie comes out.

Studer, who is pretty exhausted at the moment, credits her husband and supportive friends with helping her through the race, and she says the full weight of her accomplishment hasn’t fully sunk in yet, adding, “I am just so relieved to be finished.”

Late last year, USA Track and Field named Studer Women’s Ultra Trail Runner of the Year.

This summer, Studer will compete against the world’s best trail ultra-runners at the prestigious Western States 100.