Sunday, October 14, 2012

Just because we can

I was under the influence of a "22-hours-of-driving-from-Grand-Canyon-to-Salt-Lake-to-Los-Altos" lag, and feeling disconcerted about the degree of difficulty I experienced during a 90-minute bike ride on Tuesday, when Beat turned to me and said "Horseshoe Lake 50K is this Saturday. Do you want to sign up?"

My mind initially cranked out a stream of logical reasoning. "The Bear 100 was just ten days ago. Grand Canyon was three days ago. You were already tired before all of that happened, and still have enough genuine fatigue that you can sleep like the dead through the night and still feel muddled and sleepy during the day. And despite what you might believe, you haven't even run that much lately. Everything you've done from UTMB on has pretty much been strenuous hiking. Plus, the 25 Hours of Frog Hollow is in three weeks, and the last thing you need to do is go for a long run. If anything you need to get that baby-soft butt onto a bike seat and crank out some actual bike mileage for a change. Haven't you missed biking? Aren't your feet shredded enough?"

And then, in the same mental breath, that logical side let out an exasperated sigh. "Whatever. You're screwed anyway."

So another side broke through with a burst of elation, like a manical laugh, "Yes, you're screwed anyway! Let's see just how much this thing can blow up!"

I turned to Beat and agreed to sign up for this pointless fifty-kilometer trail run, and then sat back feeling rather satisfied with myself as the lyrics to "Wrecking Ball" by Mother Mother played in my head.

I made a wreck out of my hand
I put it through a wall
I made a fist and not a plan
Call me a reckless wrecking ball ...

Beat and Jan at the start. Jan is my cycling friend who has decided to dabble in trail running. He was in for the half marathon.
Beat upped the ante by taking his brand-new carbon Niner singlespeed for its maiden voyage by riding to the start of the race, a 16-mile road and singletrack ride with 3,200 feet of climbing. Even my wrecking ball can't compete with that; I slept an extra hour and drove to the start on Skyline Ridge. As I greeted friends at the starting line, I admitted that the only real run I'd done since the Bear 100 was a 6.5-miler on Thursday, two days earlier. What I didn't admit was that during this 6.5-mile run, my quads cramped up and I all but limped the last mile, then felt a strong need to take a nap afterward.

"I'm pretty tired," I mumbled, "and I'm not sure how this is going to go." But in my head, the wrecking ball was manically cackling and prodding me. "You need to run this thing fast. As fast as you can! What do you have to lose?"

See, I do hold this secret wish to run a "fast" 50K, which for me would be around 5:30 or so, but so far have lacked enough desire to follow through with the disciplined training it would take. Still, despite my lack of consistent running, let alone speed work, I thought I might have a shot at sub-six hours if I just refused to let myself hold back. I did have one more factor working against me — the fact that the course was almost entirely singletrack, which is always slower if you're a clumsy and unassured runner like me. But the course was designed as two half-marathon-length out-and-backs with one five-mile spur, all closely paralleling a road. I could blow up at any point and not have to limp all that far to a DNF, which I wouldn't even feel bad about given this was a rather pointless endeavor to begin with. At 7:55 that morning, with still-aching quads and sleep crust in my eyes, a big part of me was vowing to run all-out for as long as I could.

I am unruly in the stands
I am a rock on top of the sand
I am a fist amidst the hands
And I break it just because I can.

Beat with our friends Steve and Harry, who I haven't see since shortly after they finished PTL in France. The main reason to come to these events is to visit runner friends. Trail races are basically parties on the move. They're even catered. 
The field took off at 8 a.m. sharp. I initially ran with Beat, Jan, and two Bay-area friends who also finished UTMB in August, Karen and Nattu. The social chatter drowned out the cackles of my inner wrecking ball, and I fell into a comfortable, perfectly logical pace. "Maybe I should have fun with this and simply finish. Maybe I shouldn't blow myself up," I thought. Still, the wrecking ball persisted. "Run! Run faster!"

I was actually feeling pretty good, and was just about to let the wrecking ball win the argument when, at mile 4.5, something sharp and hot stabbed me in the back of my leg. Beat turned to me and said, "Are you limping?" "I've been stung," I replied. As soon as I said that, a yellowjacket stung him, too, and we both started sprinting as fast as we could away from the wasps.

So, I don't know how most of you react to wasp stings. I have more-severe-than-usual allergic reactions to most insect bites, so I wonder if I'm also more sensitive to wasp venom than the general population. Either that, or I'm just a big baby — but I'm being sincere when I say that I was suddenly in a lot of pain. If a nurse had shown me a pain rating scale, I would have marked six out of ten. Several years ago, I had a comparative experience when I crashed my mountain bike into a large sagebrush. A broken-off branch stabbed through my calf and left a puncture wound, and also — I was convinced — a few splinters somewhere deep in my skin that I never found. That's what the wasp sting was like for me — being stabbed hard in the back of the leg with a jagged stick, and then continuing to run with the stick embedded in my leg, yanking and ripping the skin and muscle. Oh, and plenty of swollen burning, too.

And, just like that, I transitioned from "I'm going to run fast" to "I'm going to drop out at the first aid station, walk out to the road, and stick out my thumb because this is way too hurty to even consider walking 6.5 miles back to the start." The fact that Beat and been stung as well and didn't make a big deal out of it made me reconsider this plan, since it did seem like I was overreacting. When we arrived at the first aid station, they were passing out Benadryl like candy because apparently several racers had been stung by wasps. I took one Benadryl, along with four Advil, and decided I was at least going to power myself back to the start.

After all of my pre-race fretting lack of specific training and fatigue, it was a wasp sting that became the overpowering factor in my experience at the Horseshoe Lake 50K. I could no longer muster the maniacal excitement to "run fast" and just continued at a reasonable pace, grumpy about how much my leg hurt. After finishing the first half marathon, I had reached the conclusion that my leg wasn't going to hurt any less if I stopped running. I took two more Advil and headed out for another 13.1 miles, only managing a real sprint through the "wasp gauntlet." Strangely, my right butt cheek also started to go numb. I'm not sure if the numbness was unrelated or if the venom had moved up my leg, but that coupled with burning pain was enough to consume every thought I had from then on out. I ran a bit more with Beat, Karen, and Nattu. Even though I tried to resist a strong urge to complain about my own petty discomforts when all three of them had been stung themselves, quite a bit of whining did spill out. Sorry, friends.

I strode into the finish just behind my friends at 6:32, and, upon sitting down and realizing that stopping in fact did not change the level of pain in my leg, immediately took two more Advil. Eight Advil was the entire amount of painkillers I allowed myself to take during the Bear 100, but recklessly decided that number was just as appropriate for a biddy widdle wasp sting, just to get through a 50K.

Yes, I'm a big baby. And because of that, the Horseshoe 50K was a hard race, a challenge just to endure. Even though I didn't come close to blowing myself up, that big ol' wrecking ball side seemed wholly satisfied. (Race results: 4th woman, 20th overall.)

Let's break it just because we can
Deface it just because we can
Let's break it just because
Just because ...