Saturday, October 15, 2005

Wendy O. Williams, Where Are You Now?

John Holmes 15mi
I rescheduled my normal Tuesday long run for Saturday so that I could run a 15-mile race on the Croom trails. The race was organized by the West Central Florida Adventure Racing Club (WeCeFAR) and was the “fun run” companion to the John Holmes 50K. The Croom Tract of the Withlacoochee State Forest is located to the east of Brooksville and is home to many miles of trails which wind through a landscape of pine forests, cypress hammocks, scrublands, and HILLS. After some initial difficulty locating the race, I’m standing at the start with about 60 other runners of various ages, builds, and ability levels. The atmosphere is much less hectic than most of the races I’ve run, and the general vibe seems less like a competition and more like a bluegrass festival. A few people jog up and down the dirt road to warm up before the start, but most people are talking with friends and just standing around. I don’t think I’ve seen anyone stretching. The race director gathers us at the starting line, which he has drawn in the sand with his heel. He briefly explains the course to us, and counts down to the start: “five, four, three, two, one” and yells “BANG!” I’m off like a startled turtle.
The first half-mile of the course follows Croom Road to the east before heading north on a fire road and linking up with the trail. The amoeba of runners slowly spreads out and begins to divide into four smaller groups: the winners, the optimists, the realists, and the simply happy to be there. I find my place somewhere at the pessimistic end of the realists, struggling to stay ahead of the gap that the happy to be there are pushing up behind me. As the faster runners break away from us, someone behind me yells, “It’s only a fifteen mile race. Get it out of your system now.” I think I’ve found my pace group.
When I stop for my first walk break I’m passed by a couple of runners, but I catch up to them slowly on each run, getting a little closer each time before stopping to walk again. This looks like a good comparison of running vs. run/walking. At the second aid station, around mile four, I overtake them and then, gradually, I overtake a few other runners who started out ahead of me. I’m being passed occasionally, but these runners are obviously doing the 50K and are already on their third or fourth lap of the seven-mile loop course.
The hills and loose sand are working my calves in new and interesting ways, but my pace feels consistent and my heart rate hasn’t gone through the roof yet. I wish that the aid stations were a little closer together (at my pace I’m reaching them about every thirty minutes), but they are well stocked with drinks and snacks, and I laugh to myself that I’ll just eat my way through this race like it’s the world’s longest buffet line.
Around the end of my first seven-mile lap, I experience my first fleeting moment of what might be called “runner’s high”. I’m running through a cypress hammock by a marshy pond full of wild daisies and butterflies on the first truly cool morning of the year. I’ve just filled myself with M&Ms and electrolyte drink at the last aid station, my pace still feels good, and I’m not tired. I think to myself, all I have to do is run. The route is laid out for me, the blazes are easy to follow, there is food and drink at each stop, and the weather is beautiful. Just run. I’m glad I’m alone because I have this stupid grin on my face. The kind of grin I used to get as a kid when someone played the banjo or said something that no one else thought was funny. The kind of grin that you try to suppress and you just can’t. A laugh in church.
Throughout the morning I’ve been hearing the typical race-day platitudes of “looking good” and “keep it up” from the volunteers at the aid stations, but a few other runners have said things that actually seemed sincere. Looking back at me approaching them on the trail, they said, “Wow, you’re looking really strong, I’d better step aside.” Quite a few of these runners were doing the 50K and they had every right to look the worse for it. Their race started two hours before mine, and they were still out there. Still, the encouragement is nice and as far as I know I haven’t been passed by anyone who started behind me after the initial half-mile shakedown.
Somewhere around the thirteenth mile, “all I have to do is run” has become “the one thing I know that I can no longer run.” I try to push through it and I increase the frequency of my walk breaks, but still each three or four minutes of running seems to go on forever. I’ve fallen off my goal of a three-hour finish. Somehow I think my body has a way of preparing itself for the task ahead whether it’s three miles or fifteen miles. If I’ve decided that I’m going to run for three hours, when that time comes I just don’t have another fifteen minutes in me. This is definitely something to keep in mind when deciding on a marathon pace.
At the second to last aid station my disposition has taken a turn for the worse, and the volunteer handing out water looks at my shirt and says “Oh my God!” Earlier in the week I had done a little manscaping to my chest hair, thinking that a high-and-tight would be more comfortable in the heat than my old Tom Selleck sweater-vest. What I hadn’t realized was the level of nipple protection afforded by the deep loft of my chest hair. I look down for the first to time and realize that the front of my shirt is covered in blood from my chafed, sweaty nipples. The woman offers me some Vaseline, which I smear on by the fingerful as I limp off down the trail. Struggling through the last couple miles, I’m haunted by the image of that tub of Vaseline, wondering whose fingers have been in it today. Everyone who has touched it has slathered it onto a bloody, seeping rash. I’m just glad I’ve had my hepatitis vaccinations. At 3:14:10 I finally cross the finish line, amused and buoyed along by today's Deep Thought: when it comes to community Vaseline, I think there needs to be a strict prohibition on double dipping.


Anonymous Jan said...

I just cannot understand how you can rub your nipples raw and never feel the irritating sensation. I think that something might be wrong with you.

8:56 PM  
Blogger Devon said...

My nipples were paralyzed in a freak window slamming incident many years ago. I have no feeling in them at all...other than shame of course.

6:26 PM  
Blogger Taylor Brady said...

Dude, that's just unspeakably vile. For some reason, though, despite the nipple injuries, your running seems to be filtering down to me. I've been going out pretty much every day since we've been on vacation here in Montreal, and I've worked my way up to almost 4 mile runs now. OK, no 15 miles, but damn, it's cold here.

10:20 PM  
Anonymous mayuri said...

That might be the funniest thing I have read in awhile. I wish I had read this entry before Sunday, Because then I would have just come dressed like you at the finishline. Well, maybe not, the babies at the party were already freaked out by Babu... if I had bloody nipples with clumps of vasoline, that might have put them over the edge.

11:41 PM  

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